Sunday, October 04, 2009

Police Brutality Could Cost Milwaukee $3 Million

In what could be the biggest police brutality settlement in Milwaukee history, City Attorney Grant Langley is recommending the city pay $3 million to a man who was paralyzed after his 2003 arrest.

The officer accused in the beating was later fired for covering up an incident in which he and other officers went sledding on duty.

If the Common Council agrees, the city would have to borrow the money to settle the federal civil rights lawsuit filed by Curtis Harris. Two council committees will consider the deal this week.

In December 2003, Officer Kevin Clark and his partner, Officer Joseph Schankey, arrested Harris at his sister's home after he was accused of threatening her and her children. Harris previously had been convicted of obstructing police. The officers also reported Harris was drunk, an allegation he denied.

While Harris was being booked at the 3rd District police station, Clark threw him to the floor. Clark claimed Harris was about to take a swing at him. Harris said that wasn't possible because Clark was behind him.

In his lawsuit, Harris alleged that Clark slammed Harris' head into a wall and drove his knee into Harris' back. As a result, Harris said he became a quadriplegic for life. He filed suit against Clark, Schankey and the city.

Less than two months after arresting Harris, Clark became entangled in a separate incident that eventually cost him his job.

In late January 2004, he and other officers working on the 3rd District late shift decided to go sledding at Calvary Cemetery on W. Blue Mound Road. Clark crashed his sled and broke several ribs.

A sergeant in the group then ordered the officers to devise a coverup, in which they claimed Clark was injured while pursuing a burglary suspect. The sergeant even recommended Clark for a commendation, which was never awarded.

Clark collected $11,485 in worker's compensation before the scam was exposed. He pleaded guilty to insurance fraud, was fined $500 and fired by then-Police Chief Nannette Hegerty. The sergeant was convicted of misconduct in public office and resigned, and another officer involved in the coverup was convicted of obstructing justice and fired.

Langley said Clark's disciplinary record would have led to questions about his credibility if he had to testify before a jury.

With future medical expenses for Harris projected at more than $4 million, Langley said he was concerned jurors might award Harris more than the $3 million proposed in the settlement.

Langley said this would be the largest settlement of an excessive-force suit that he can recall in the 38 years he has worked for the city attorney's office, including 25 years in his current post.

The Harris settlement would be almost twice the $1.6 million that the city paid last year in a settlement with the family of Justin Fields, who was shot and killed while fleeing police in 2003. The family of Daniel Bell, who was killed by police in a 1958 incident that was covered up for 20 years, won $1.6 million in a jury trial.

Among other cases, the Harris settlement would be nearly as much as the $3.2 million total that the city paid in two separate 2007 reverse-discrimination settlements with 28 current and former police lieutenants who accused former Police Chief Arthur Jones of refusing to promote them to captain because they are white men.

But a much higher-profile police brutality case is still working its way through the courts. Frank Jude Jr. is seeking $30 million in a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city and eight former officers linked to his beating at a 2004 Bay View party.

Six of those officers have been convicted of criminal civil rights violations, including five who were fired and one who resigned. A seventh officer was acquitted and reinstated, and the eighth was never charged.

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