Jeramey Jannene
City Hall

Police Settlement Will Cost Millions Less Than Expected

Plus: costs grow in claim against Tearman Spencer and a firefighter conspiracy defense.

By - Jun 12th, 2023 02:04 pm
Milwaukee City Hall. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Milwaukee City Hall. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

The City of Milwaukee will pay out $225,000 in a police misconduct settlement, a relative bargain compared to the $12 million that was once demanded.

Ladarius Marshall filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city after a judge threw out a homicide conviction stemming from the 2008 shooting of 19-year-old Lavare Gould.

Marshall was 16 when he was arrested. He spent more than 12 hours in police interrogation rooms and told two detectives he didn’t want to talk, only to be continually questioned. Marshall, who has “cognitive limitations,” said he was present for the shooting and eventually pled guilty to second-degree reckless homicide with the use of a dangerous weapon and possession of a weapon by a person under the age of 18.

He was sentenced to 20 years in prison and 10 years of extended supervision. But Federal Judge William C. Griesbach, in April 2020, threw out Marshall’s conviction because of the persistent questioning which violated Marshall’s rights. The Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office and the Wisconsin Department of Justice decided not to retry the case.

Marshall sought $12 million in a 2022 claim on the basis that it was $1 million for every year he spent in jail. Now he’s accepting $225,000.

“A surprise that we are happy to receive,” said deputy city attorney Jennifer Williams on Monday to members of the Judiciary & Legislation Committee.

“I have to ask the obvious question: why? What changed?” asked Alderman Michael Murphy.

Williams credited the discovery plan of the city’s outside counsel, the Chicago-based firm Nathan & Kaminoski. She said the firm was in the process of obtaining mental health records from Marshall’s time at the Green Bay Correctional Institution. Williams said Marshall may have made “incriminating statements” during his time in custody.

“I don’t know for sure if that’s what the plaintiff’s motivation was,” she told the committee. But the city will agree to the settlement because going to trial could cost more, even if it wins.

In 2021, the council authorized spending up to $100,000 with Nathan & Kaminoski. It will also need to pay the settlement, which the committee approved unanimously.

Marshall is being represented by Loevy & Loevy, a Chicago-based firm.

The federal case is before Judge Brett Ludwig. The full Common Council, which will meet next week, must still approve the settlement. The committee previously discussed the case in closed session.

The four detectives involved in the improper interrogation were Gust Petropoulos, Michael Braunreiter, Matthew Goldberg and Timothy Heier. Petropoulos and Braunreiter were the two to whom Marshall said he would not speak.

See our earlier coverage for additional details on how Marshall’s conviction was overturned and how his legal team sought unsuccessfully to suppress the interrogation testimony.

Settlement For Dump Truck Crash

The committee also recommended approval of an $85,000 settlement stemming from a 2019 collision in which a Department of Public Works dump truck driver backed into a car.

“$85,000 is a very good resolution,” said Williams.

The truck, driven by Walter Carter, Sr., collided with a vehicle driven by Christine Zorn. A responding MPD officer “concluded that [Carter] contributed to the crash due to unsafe backing,” says a City Attorney’s Office report.

Zorn, who Williams said experienced soft tissue issues and a wrist injury, alleged negligence in her 2022 lawsuit. She reported medical costs of $69,000 and $250,000 in estimated future medical damages. Williams said state statute would cap the city’s liability at $250,000.

Williams credited assistant city attorney Christopher Jackson, who has since left city employment, with negotiating the settlement.

Attorney Jesse Blocher, an attorney with Habush, Habush & Rottier, is representing Zorn on the case.

Gehling Claim Costs Grow

The city will spend up to an additional $30,000 to defend itself against a sex discrimination claim filed against City Attorney Tearman Spencer. The council authorized an initial $20,000 in 2022.

Naomi Gehling filed a complaint against Spencer in January. She alleges Spencer touched her inappropriately and created a “toxic and uncomfortable” workplace. Gehling previously disclosed that she was the once-anonymous attorney who accused Spencer of placing his hand on her knee during a meeting in July 2020, four months after Spencer was elected. She alleges that after she reported the incident she was both mistreated and ostracized, and that Spencer sought to reassign her to an “undesirable” position. She left the office in April 2021, taking a job as chief of staff for the city’s Fire & Police Commission.

Daniel J. Finerty of Lindner & Marsack is representing the city, since the City Attorney’s Office had a conflict of interest in representing itself. The committee, led by Alderman Mark Borkowski, said it would like to be briefed by Finerty at an upcoming meeting.

More Money For Firefighter Conspiracy Defense

The City of Milwaukee will spend up to $50,000 more defending itself against a fired firefighter. The approved total is now $80,000. But the matter could be ending, with a federal case being dismissed.

Michael Peden, as an acting lieutenant in 2017, was accused of making racist and sexist comments, and then groping, a female firefighter at the Engine 26 fire station, 1140 S. 26th St. A felony sexual assault charge related to the case was dropped in 2019.

Peden was fired in 2020 for failing to follow orders after refusing to serve under supervisors he believes were involved in the matter. He is appealing that decison through the Wisconsin Court System, with the city defending itself.

But he also has a claim in federal court.

Peden alleges there was a conspiracy of high-ranking individuals in the fire and police departments working to frame him. His lawsuit cites a long list of people allegedly playing various roles in withholding evidence or coordinating to have him criminally charged, including: the firefighter he allegedly groped, Aleah Ellis, as well as her mother, Billie Ellis (a Milwaukee police officer); then-assistant fire chief Gerard Washington (now Menomonee Falls fire chief and, since 2022, a member of the Milwaukee Fire & Police Commission); then-MPD captain Ray Banks; then-MFD captain Sharon P. Purifoy-Smoots (a mentor to Ellis and now assistant chief); and fire chief Aaron Lipski.

Madison-based firm Levine Eisberner represents Peden on his federal case. On his state termination appeal, Peden is represented by Charles Blumenfield of Blumenfield & Shereff.

The city is being defended on the federal case by Crivello Carlson S.C.

Since the council authorized the additional funding on May 31, the federal case was dismissed by Judge Nancy Joseph.

If you think stories like this are important, become a member of Urban Milwaukee and help support real, independent journalism. Plus you get some cool added benefits.

Related Legislation: File 230158

Leave a Reply

You must be an Urban Milwaukee member to leave a comment. Membership, which includes a host of perks, including an ad-free website, tickets to marquee events like Summerfest, the Wisconsin State Fair and the Florentine Opera, a better photo browser and access to members-only, behind-the-scenes tours, starts at $9/month. Learn more.

Join now and cancel anytime.

If you are an existing member, sign-in to leave a comment.

Have questions? Need to report an error? Contact Us