Jeramey Jannene
City Hall

Milwaukee Sues Second Reckless Driver

LaShawn Thomas has received 37 traffic citations in five years

By - Nov 29th, 2022 11:00 am
A Milwaukee Police Department SUV in downtown Milwaukee. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

A Milwaukee Police Department SUV in downtown Milwaukee. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

His driver’s license has been suspended. He’s been pulled over and ticketed dozens of times. But LaShawn Thomas continues to drive recklessly. Now the Milwaukee Police Department is suing him.

It’s part of a new legal strategy to combat a legal loophole where repeatedly cited drivers like Thomas can continue to drive. For a number of driving violations, including running red lights and repeat offenses, the maximum penalty is a fine. Thomas has pushed that to the limit, repeatedly being pulled over for driving more than twice the speed limit and often while illegally passing vehicles or driving into oncoming traffic.

Thomas, who has accumulated 37 traffic-related citations since 2017, is the second individual subject to civil court strategy. “We are requesting that a Milwaukee County Circuit Court judge find that Mr. Thomas’ dangerous driving is a public nuisance and order injunctive and equitable relief. Failure to comply with that injunction could result in contempt of court remedies, such as seizing his vehicle or being sentenced to jail,” said MPD in a press release.

Thomas, 26, has been issued 13 citations in 2022. That includes three speeding tickets, each for more than 23 mph over the limit. He’s also been cited twice for child seat belt violations. He doesn’t have a valid license, nor insurance.

A resident of N. 39th St. according to the lawsuit, Thomas’ citations are all listed as occurring on the city’s North Side. Multiple times, Thomas was pulled over for doing the “Milwaukee slide,” where he illegally passed other vehicles by driving in the parking or bike lane.

On July 4, 2021, Thomas was cited for driving 53 mph over the speed limit (35 mph) near 8100 W. Appleton Ave. The next day his vehicle, a white 2008 Saab sedan, was engaged in a high-speed chase. The vehicle was observed by MPD moving into oncoming traffic to pass another vehicle on W. Garfield Ave., and when officers engaged in pursuit it was driven more than 60 mph down residential side streets. Thomas denied being involved in the latter incident, though the vehicle was found parked outside his house and he didn’t identify anyone else that drove it. He was cited a citation for “owner’s liability – flee/elude officer.”

Later in July, Thomas was pulled over while doing 28 mph over the speed limit. He had two children, ages seven and three, in the vehicle that weren’t “properly secured.”

Thomas joins Anthony Szablewski, who accrued 44 violations between 2017 and July 2022, as the second person sued under the policy. The city secured a default judgment against Szablewski in October as, consistent with his response to past citations, he didn’t show up in court. Szablewski, 54, has been cited at least once since the lawsuit was filed. He also now faces an eviction case. The legal strategy being used calls for the defendant to be first declared a public nuisance and then hit with court action to impound the vehicle or authorize jail time.

“MPD continues to work on a multifaceted approach to combat reckless driving and needs assistance from everyone, including our community. The civil litigation approach 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,” said Chief Jeffrey Norman in a statement.

The department said it has identified 20 offenders who have been ticketed more than 10 times in the past five years and sent each of them a warning letter. Many of Thomas’ violations would also run afoul of a relatively new MPD policy that allows towing during traffic stops if the vehicle is determined to be unregistered and if a citation is issued for speeding for at least 25 mph over the posted limit, endangering safety for reckless driving, fleeing from an officer or drag racing. The complaint does not suggest that Thomas’ Saab is one of more than 100 vehicles that MPD has towed under the policy.

Assistant city attorney Alex Mueller is representing the city on the matter. The case is assigned to Judge Frederick Rosa.

According to court records, Thomas, like Szablewski, regularly does not appear for his court dates and does not pay the judgments.

City officials publicly squabbled over the civil-suit strategy earlier this year. Dating back to late 2021, Common Council members accused City Attorney Tearman Spencer 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. 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, who declared reckless driving a public safety crisis as his first act, was said to be pushing for the measure.

One thought on “City Hall: Milwaukee Sues Second Reckless Driver”

  1. Edward Susterich says:

    Prediction– he will be a no-show in court, and he will ignore fines…and continue on with the same reckless, criminal behavior.

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