Jeramey Jannene

Police Begin Suing Reckless Drivers

MPD files lawsuit against driver with 44 violations, warns 20 more repeat reckless drivers they could be sued.

By - Jul 26th, 2022 11:58 am
Milwaukee Police Department officer pulls over a vehicle in Bay View. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Milwaukee Police Department officer pulls over a vehicle in Bay View. File photo by Jeramey Jannene.

The Milwaukee Police Department is moving to close a loophole that allows repeatedly-ticketed reckless drivers to keep driving with little punishment beyond fines. The city is suing a repeat offender in civil court in a bid to get them declared a public nuisance, a pathway to impounding their vehicle and jail time for sustained non-compliance.

For a number of driving violations, including running red lights, the maximum penalty is a fine. Individuals pulled over too frequently will have their license suspended, but subsequent violations, including driving without a license, are still just a fine.

It’s how someone like Anthony Szablewski, 53, has accrued 44 driving citations from MPD since 2017. That includes 14 citations in 2022. Szablewski, according to data provided by MPD, has been pulled over for reckless driving, red light violations, unsafe passing and speeding. But he continues to drive, even without a license.

A complaint, filed in Milwaukee County Circuit Court by City Attorney Tearman Spencer and assistant city attorney Alex Mueller, asks for a judge to simply declare Szablewski’s driving a public nuisance. Further violations would be required to hold him in contempt, a move that could result in impounding vehicles or jail time.

The move comes as a surprise as council members had previously accused the city attorney of slow walking the proposal. The council was poised to vote on an ordinance to formalize the nuisance designation in March, but an opinion resulted in the ordinance being indefinitely held. Now a lawsuit is moving forward.

“Reckless driving is an issue that has been plaguing our community for far too long. We continue to work on a multifaceted approach to combat reckless driving and need assistance from everyone, including our community,” said police chief Jeffrey Norman in a statement. “This new approach of civil litigation against egregious reckless drivers is intended to send a clear message to all the chronic reckless drivers in Milwaukee that we take the safety of everyone on the roadways in our community very seriously.”

When the council discussed the measure in January, Norman and his chief of staff Nick DeSiato, both trained attorneys, were credited with coming up with the idea. Then acting mayor Cavalier Johnson was said to be pushing for the measure.

“The City of Milwaukee and our police department are using every reasonable tool to reduce reckless driving,” said Johnson in a statement Monday. “Going forward, drivers who chronically disregard our traffic laws will face consequences far beyond a slap on the wrist. That’s what the people of our city expect, and that’s what I expect.”

The first lawsuit is already being used as a warning shot. MPD says it has notified 20 individuals that it has identified as having been ticketed more than 10 times in the past five years that without a change in behavior it could also sue them.

Szablewski has been cited for violations across the entire city, but in 2022 his violations have been entirely on S. Howell Ave. and Howard Ave. The civil suit indicates he is a resident of the Bay View neighborhood.

His 2022 violations include operating without a license, operating without insurance, operating an unregistered vehicle and a number of driving violations. On April 28 and June 4, he was pulled over for operating at more than double the 30 miles per hour posted speed limit. Most egregiously, Szablewski was involved in a crash while passing someone illegally on Feb. 9.

The complaint filed against Szablewski indicates he does not show up for municipal court dates, resulting in default judgments against him. In multiple cases he has not paid the citations.

On Aug. 31, 2021, Szablewski was found unconscious in his vehicle on the 4700 block of N. 79th St. He was given Narcan as a remedy for an opiate overdose, but was unable to stand on his own after regaining consciousness. MPD said puncture marks were visible on his arm, consistent with drug use. He was given tickets for operating while under the influence, operating with a suspended license and operating an unregistered vehicle.

Szablewski’s issues aren’t limited to just MPD. The Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office has pulled him over and cited him multiple times in 2022. Online court records indicate there are open warrants for his arrest.

The civil case is assigned to Judge Gwen Connolly.

DeSiato previously said the civil lawsuit strategy was only to be used for the most frequent offenders where behavior wasn’t changing. But it’s not the only thing MPD and the city are doing about reckless driving.

A reckless-driving towing policy, implemented in May, has resulted in more than 50 vehicles being towed. The policy allows vehicles that are both unregistered and driven recklessly to be towed. Reckless driving includes speeding at least 25 miles per hour over the posted limit, fleeing from an officer, drag racing and the broader citation for “endangering safety” by reckless driving. In Szablewski’s case, not every time he was pulled over would have resulted in a tow.

MPD is also working with the Wisconsin State Patrol on policing reckless driving hot spots, adding bait cars in an attempt to address a record number of vehicle thefts and reinstating a theft-prevention sticker program designed to alert officers to vehicles that aren’t expected to be driven overnight.

A copy of the complaint is available on Urban Milwaukee.

Categories: Public Safety, Weekly

One thought on “Police Begin Suing Reckless Drivers”

  1. says:

    This is a nice array of interventions! Keep it up!

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