Jeramey Jannene
City Hall

Council Approves Paying Four Settlements

Taxpayers on the hook for yet more city settlements.

By - Sep 21st, 2022 07:53 am
Whole Foods grocery store (2305 N. Prospect Ave.) and Prospect Medical Commons (2311 N. Prospect Ave.). Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Whole Foods grocery store (2305 N. Prospect Ave.) and Prospect Medical Commons (2311 N. Prospect Ave.). Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

You can’t fight City Hall goes the adage. Milwaukee might want to add a second clause, “but you can get a settlement.”

At the recommendation of City Attorney Tearman Spencer, the Common Council unanimously authorized four settlements Tuesday. A closed session, special meeting of the Judiciary & Legislation Committee is expected to occur Friday to debate another settlement.

The council approved settlements Tuesday related to assessments, workplace discrimination and excessive use of force by Milwaukee Police Department officers.

The $10,000 excessive force settlement dates back to the 2012 arrest of John J. Munoz, Jr. Munoz, now 44, alleges that officers Robert Velez, Michael Anderson and Mathew McGrury used excessive force in arresting and detaining him after a call from his neighbors. Munoz, according to online court records, pled guilty to three misdemeanor charges stemming from his 2012 arrest, including battery and two counts of disorderly conduct, while a fourth misdemeanor charge of obstructing an officer was read in, but dropped. A 2011 investigation found officer Velez previously committed domestic violence. The city attorney’s letter to the council says that only one of the three officers is still with the department.

The discrimination settlement will cost the city $8,000. Norma Lewis filed employment discrimination claims with the state’s Equal Rights Division that alleges she was discriminated against based on multiple protected class statuses. A Black woman, Lewis claims that she was also sexually harassed and subject to an intolerable work environment that forced her discharge. Lewis, according to her Linkedin profile, was a 17-year employee of the Department of Neighborhood Services. Spencer’s letter says that one of the city’s challenges in defending the case is that some of the witnesses no longer work for the city. Lewis will receive $4,800 from the settlement and her legal representative, Walcheske & Luzi, will receive $3,200.

The city will need to cut Ascension a $71,010.51 check, but not for medical services. The health care conglomerate sued the city over its 2019 through 2021 assessments for its Prospect Medical Commons offices across from Columbia St. Mary’s hospital, which are located in a condominium above a Whole Foods grocery store. Ascension sought a $631,142 refund. The city, which performs the actual assessment, will end up paying $23,700 after other property taxing entities issue their refunds. The 110,011-square-foot office building, 2311 N. Prospect Ave., is assessed for $23.3 million according to the city’s assessment website. The attached parking garage is assessed for $2.77 million.

The final lawsuit settlement approved Tuesday is the most unusual: a residential property. After appealing to the City Assessor and Board of Review, residential property owners often can’t justify the cost of hiring legal representation to fight the case in court. But personal injury attorney Fred Tabak represented himself and his wife Leigh Tabak in contesting the value of their Historic Third Ward condominium. The city will now pay the Tabaks $13,337.63 to settle a claim that started with the 2020 assessment cycle. After recovering revenue from the other taxing entities, the city is on the hook for approximately $4,000. The 4,150-square-foot condo is currently assessed for $852,800, down from $1.09 million in 2020, according to the assessor’s website.

At least one settlement is still pending before the council. A 2020 class action lawsuit by firefighter Karl Kraai alleges the Milwaukee Fire Department did not properly pay overtime. The City Attorney recommended settling the suit earlier this year for $1.15 million.

The city has paid out a number of other settlements this year, including $900,000 to settle claims of workers terminated by former chief Alfonso Morales. Former police captain Andra Williams received a $350,000 deal. The retired captain sued the city for discrimination on the basis of race and gender when he was passed over for two emergency communication management jobs in 2016.

The city also paid a $35,000 settlement to Patrick McCormack who claims he was wrongfully arrested and detained in 2019 by officers Brendan Dolan, Angela Jaurez and Kevin Eyre after being misidentified as a suspect. Al Holifield, Jr. won an $8,000 settlement stemming from an alleged violation of his constitutional rights for unreasonable search and seizure.

The volume and size of settlements caused the council to add $850,000 to the $1.23 million “damages and claims” account in April.

A $7.5 million claim is still pending in federal court relating to the wrongful imprisonment of Sam Hadaway. The council, at Spencer’s request, initially authorized $30,000 for outside firm Nathan & Kamionski to support the city on the case. In July the council authorized an additional $30,000.

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Categories: Politics, Weekly

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