City Will Pay 2020 George Floyd Protester $270,000
Cameron Murdoch a 'victim of violent police,' suit claims, at 6th and McKinley fracas.
The Milwaukee Police Department‘s violent arrest of a protester during a June 2020 civil rights protest will cost the City of Milwaukee $270,000.
A settlement is pending before the Milwaukee Common Council to resolve Cameron Murdoch‘s federal civil rights lawsuit against the city. The council’s Judiciary & Legislation Committee Committee could first review it on Feb. 20.
Murdoch, 31, was one of the hundreds of protesters at the intersection of N. 6th St. and W. McKinley Ave. on June 2, 2020 when the crowd became physically engaged with dozens of police officers wearing riot gear that were positioned to block access to Interstate 43. The protest was one of several successive high-profile marches that took place in Milwaukee following the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers.
Murdoch, while walking a bicycle, was tackled from behind by Sergeant Joseph Zawikowski, one of several officers on a bicycle. According to Murdoch’s complaint, another officer, Donald Krenzien, put his knee on Murdoch’s neck while arresting him, a notable move given that it was a similar action that killed Floyd. MPD first suggested that Murdoch was “the main suspect” from a group of cyclists that circled police vehicles. Protesters, in interviews with Urban Milwaukee, said the arrest and escalation happened after a bicycle officer, later identified as Krenzien, fell off his bike after colliding with another officer.
MPD and then-chief Alfonso Morales claimed that day, via Twitter, that the larger 6th and McKinley confrontation was sparked by a lit Molotov cocktail (usually a glass bottle with flammable liquid) being thrown at officers and that the supposed weapon was being transferred to a crime lab. But months later, MPD admitted their “Molotov cocktail” was just a water bottle and a fish tank pump, and that the supposed weapon was never sent to a crime lab. The department said the supposed weapon was thrown after Murdoch was arrested. Tear gas and rubber bullets were deployed by officers.
Morales later defended Krenzien’s actions as following training to place pressure on a shoulder, not the neck. Publicly-available photos and videos of the arrest are inconclusive as to exactly where pressure was applied.
MPD’s actions at the intersection were publicly criticized by Milwaukee Common Council members during a hearing that month. Morales and then-assistant chief Michael Brunson issued their explanation for the incident and several others two months later. The controversy helped trigger a series of directives given to Morales by the Fire & Police Commission and used as justification for his ultimately botched demotion
Murdoch, who spent multiple minutes on the ground, was bruised during the incident and spent most of the night in custody. His claim said Krenzien’s actions were “objectively unreasonable and extremely dangerous. There is no evidence that Murdoch had done anything to warrant the use of any amount of force.” Murdoch’s complaint cites the fact that no officers intervened to stop Krenzien from keeping his knee on Murdoch, an act of negligence in failing to stop an excessive use of force. Murdoch was issued citations for disorderly conduct and obstructing an officer, which his complaint called a conspiracy to create a justification for his arrest.
“Cameron Murdoch was a victim of a violent police assault on June 2, 2020. As the videos and photographs clearly show, a law enforcement officer planted his knee on Mr. Murdoch’s neck while forcefully striking him after he was wrongfully detained. He sustained injuries to his person and property,” wrote attorneys Drew DeVinney and Edgar Lin in a June 5, 2020 press release. Lin no longer represents Murdoch, having taken a new job with Protect Democracy. DeVinney, of Martin Law Office, remains Murdoch’s lead attorney on the case.
The march started earlier that day in Bay View and headed towards Downtown. Murdoch, according to his complaint, joined the march near City Hall and followed the group to N. 6th St. and W. McKinley Ave. where officers had formed a line to prevent entry to Interstate 43. Later that same day, a remaining group of protesters successfully marched onto Interstate 794 and one of the march leaders, Frank Sensabaugh, was tackled by Milwaukee County Sheriff‘s Office deputies.
“I am saddened that participating in a safe protest during the day made me a victim of police brutality,” said Murdoch in a June 6, 2020 statement. “I’ve not generally been an activist, but I saw what happened to George Floyd and I wanted to get out and support my community and stand with them in solidarity.” A video of Murdoch’s arrest is available from shortly after he was forced onto the ground.
Murdoch’s claim, filed in February 2021, names Morales, Krenzien, Zawikowski, police captain Heather Wurth, lieutenant Mark Wroblewski and officer Justin Heard. Only Zawikowski, Krenzien and Heard are still with the department. Zawikowski was also named as a defendant, for his failure to intervene, in a settled 2014 lawsuit in which an individual alleged officers illegally searched his home, threw him to the ground and beat him hard enough to break his eye socket.
As is standard practice, the settlement would cover Murdoch’s attorney fees and does not include an admission of guilt. In a letter, City Attorney Tearman Spencer, deputy city attorney Jennifer L. Williams and assistant city attorney L. Anthony Jackson recommended the council accept the settlement to avoid the “unpredictability of a trial, and the City’s risk for exposure to compensatory and punitive damages, as well as additional attorney fees and costs.”
The settlement would be paid from a portion of the city budget set aside to pay such claims.
- Tosa Protest Assails Federal Court Decision Exonerating Police - Isiah Holmes - May 9th, 2023
- Wauwatosa ‘Target List’ Trial Begins - Isiah Holmes - May 3rd, 2023
- Shorewood Spitter Found Guilty For 2020 Protest Confrontation - Jeramey Jannene - Apr 20th, 2023
- City Hall: City Will Pay 2020 George Floyd Protester $270,000 - Jeramey Jannene - Feb 14th, 2023
- Tosa Protest Tickets Dismissed - Isiah Holmes - Jul 21st, 2022
- Op Ed: ‘We Need More’ - Charles Q. Sullivan - Mar 4th, 2022
- Milwaukee Officers Circulate “2020 Riot” Coins? - Isiah Holmes - Nov 14th, 2021
- City Hall: Police Department Tweets Lied To Public - Jeramey Jannene - Oct 27th, 2021
- Lawmakers Request Civil Rights Probe of Tosa PD - Isiah Holmes - Jul 23rd, 2021
- How Does Police Reform Compare To Other Cities? - Jeramey Jannene - Jun 14th, 2021
Read more about 2020 Racial Justice Protests here