Lawyers push against ‘knee-jerk’ calls for punitive policies after Waukesha Christmas Parade tragedy

In the aftermath of the tragedy at the on Nov. 21, there have been calls across the state for a review of the low bail set for Brooks, who was released after being charged with other violent crimes, as well as a push for broader changes to the criminal justice system. A joint resolution in the Legislature, proposed by Rep. Cindi Duchow (R-Town of Delafield) and Sen. Van Wanggaard (R- Racine) would create a new constitutional amendment to make judges consider the dangerousness of a defendant when setting bail.

More than 60 people were injured and six were killed after a vehicle plowed into the parade in Waukesha last month. Eight-year-old Jason Sparks became the sixth person to die when he succumbed to wounds suffered in the incident two days later. Many of the wounded remain in the hospital. Darrell Brooks Jr., 39, the driver of the vehicle, faces six counts of homicide among other charges.

About two weeks before the Christmas parade tragedy, on Nov. 11, Brooks was released on $1,000 bail after being arrested on a domestic violence charge. Prosecutors say Brooks attempted to strike the mother of his child with a fist, and then tried to run her over with the same vehicle he was driving during the Waukesha parade. The Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office is reviewing the decision to release Brooks, with District Attorney John Chisholm calling the $1,000 amount “inappropriately low,” given the charges.

Brooks is currently confined with a $5 million bail. When he appeared in court on Tuesday, prosecutors stated they’re interested in modifying Brooks’ bail in two other pending cases against him in Milwaukee County. Brooks’ public defender also withdrew in court on Tuesday, citing a conflict of interest due to a connection with one of the victims. On Dec. 1, U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin requested a moment of silence for the victims in Waukesha on the Senate floor. A bipartisan group of Wisconsin congressmen did the same in the House.

Scapegoating the bail system, and justice reform

As the Waukesha community and the state reel from the tragedy, some advocates are concerned about a brewing backlash against progressive criminal justice policies. Deja Vishny, a criminal defense attorney in Milwaukee and the retired head of the state public defender’s homicide practice group, says in Brooks’ case, parts of the system worked as intended. The current standards “recommended that he was a high risk and that a higher cash bail should have been set,” Vishny tells Wisconsin Examiner.

She and other defense attorneys worry that a push to set higher bail in reaction to this case will have unintended consequences, punishing low-income people who have not yet had their day in court.

“Most people who are out on bail never commit another crime when they’re out on bail,” she says. “And we are unnecessarily locking people up on bail when they haven’t been found guilty of any crime, when more well-to-do people can pay the bail and poor people can’t.”

The longer someone is incarcerated on bail, the more unstable their lives become. Ion Meyn, an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin Law School, advises against a rush to make bail and pretrial detention more punitive. “I would caution care when we have an incident and try to then apply that incident to inform policy decisions,” says Meyn. “I think it’s a really treacherous path to take and I don’t suggest doing so.” He adds that, “I think we want to immediately punish someone, change some rule, make someone accountable for a decision. At the end of the day, if we could understand in this world that we live in that tragedy happens — it’s going to happen whether you detain people or not.” Although Meyn says he is heartbroken for the Waukesha community, he warns that reacting to a tragedy doesn’t necessarily inform good policy.

Meyn highlights specific language in Wisconsin’s bail statute. At its core, the statute is designed to assure an appearance in court by the accused. “If bail is imposed,” the statute reads, “it shall be only in the amount found necessary to assure the appearance of the defendant. Conditions of release, other than monetary conditions, may be imposed for the purpose of protecting members of the community from serious bodily harm or preventing intimidation of witnesses.” Those other conditions of release could be GPS monitoring, increased supervision and other conditions that don’t involve paying money.

Former prosecutor and a clinical professor at UW-Madison Law School Lanny Glinberg says the fact that Brooks was not held on higher bail in Milwaukee doesn’t stem from a lack of authority to detain him. Rather, it was “a discretionary decision made by a judge and apparently at the recommendation of the prosecutor that his bail would be low.” Glinberg explains that, “with the system and statutory and constitutional structure that we have right now, there’s no lack of authority to impose higher bail in a case like that. The problem is that no release decision is without risk. But we can’t lock up pending trial every potentially risky individual. We wouldn’t let anybody out if we were looking for zero risk. And we need to keep that in mind.”

Amending the state Constitution

Rep. Duchow is seeking to amend the Wisconsin State Constitution to restructure how judges apply bail to individuals with criminal histories. During Brooks’ first appearance in court, prosecutors recounted his history with the criminal justice system dating back to 2000. Duchow’s proposed amendment would compel judges to consider the dangerousness or potential violence of an individual when determining cash bail.

“Wisconsin continues to see examples of people with extensive criminal histories committing crimes while out on bail,” Duchow said in a statement announcing her proposed joint resolution. “Most recently was the tragic and horrific attack on the Waukesha Christmas Parade by an individual with a long history of violent crimes. Allowing judges to consider the safety of the community, seriousness of offense, and previous record of the offender provides another tool to protect both victims and the community while the judicial process plays out.”

But Vishny stresses that increasing bail widens the distance between the haves and the have-nots in an already inequitable criminal justice system. “When people stay in jail for crimes they lose their jobs, they lose their housing, they may lose public assistance, they may lose contact with their children, there are all kinds of ill effects for people who are never going to be necessarily incarcerated on that crime,” argues Vishny. “Therefore, it is a mistake to change the bail system because of this. There’s no such thing as a perfect system. There will probably always be some individual, somewhere, at some point, who’s released on bail and commits a horrible crime like what occurred in this case. But there are thousands of people who should be released, and we could have a safer society because they are released. Because they do see their children, they do keep their housing, they do keep their jobs.”

Judges already have the power to assess a person’s risk to the community, and apply additional conditions for release based on that risk. “In Wisconsin we already have, under state law, the ability of the judge to detain, without bail, someone who, for example, allegedly committed murder or a serious sexual assault,” says Meyn. “It doesn’t have to be cash bail, it’s just pretrial detention. You ain’t getting out. It’s already there.”

Judges have discretion when it comes to bail, too. “Those levers are all there for judges and prosecutors,” Meyn says. “And the fact that legislators now are making a big deal about how we have to add in danger to society as a particular element of the bail consideration, that’s a really bad idea. If you think it’s hard for judges to make tough decisions right now, it’s going to be impossible if that’s in there. Because then we hold the judge completely responsible. The judges already take danger to society into account, but have to do it other ways through the bail statute.”

Criticism of Chisholm

Chisholm has become a target for criticism because of Brooks’ $1,000 bail. The chain of decisions made prior to Brooks’ release was put under the microscope during a Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors committee meeting on Dec. 2. The Judiciary, Safety, and General Services Committee brought together county supervisors, the district attorney and other members of the criminal justice system. Committee members, including Supvs. Ryan Clancy, Sylvia Ortiz-Velez, and Pam Logsdon, were personally impacted by the Waukesha Christmas Parade tragedy.

“Anything I say right now has to be remembered in the context that Mr. Brooks is presumed innocent until the cases are adjudicated,” Chisholm said to the supervisors. “Prosecutors are obligated to say that in any case where a charge has been issued. And it speaks to the issue of bail as well and that is that the state ultimately bears the obligation to prove every case with evidence that supports a finding of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. The state’s main power, as it were, is to issue a charge. We do not ultimately decide the outcome of that charge.” In a prior weapons related charge, Brooks had been held on $10,000 bail, Chisholm notes.

The strain the pandemic dealt on the system also came into play. “What occurred is that this defendant was held on bail, and then trial dates were set,” Chisholm explained. “He had a trial date set that we could not provide a court trial for him, or a jury trial for him on that date.” Because Brooks couldn’t be provided a speedy trial, his custody status needed to be reviewed. “That’s what occurred, the bail was reduced in that case. Some time later, Mr. Brooks is arrested again for a very serious domestic violence offense.” At that point, the district attorney’s office needed to get involved again.

However, Chisholm said that the assistant district attorney in this case was one of the office’s two dedicated felony domestic violence prosecutors. With just two and a half years of experience, “she’s done over 20 jury trials,” says Chisholm. The day Brooks’ case went to her desk, she was in the middle of a multi-day jury trial. “In addition to having almost two dozen felony-level cases to review,” Chisholm explains, giving context for Brooks’ release. “This case was one of those cases she was reviewing in that context.” Additionally, a risk assessment done on Brooks wasn’t uploaded to the office’s system, so the assistant district attorney didn’t have access to it. “Given the volume of cases she was dealing with, given her jury trial that she was working on, she simply charged the case. She looked at the previous bail, saw that it was $500 and she doubled it. That’s it, that’s a mistake. It’s human error. And it just set in motion a chain of events that resulted in a tragedy.”

Since taking office in 2007, Chisholm has advocated for reforms to the criminal justice system, including the cash bail system, and support for community-based programs.

An online dashboard created by the Milwaukee County District Attorney to track key data indicators shows recent improvements in certain areas. In June 2020, it took victim advocates an average of two days to contact the victim following a case being referred, compared to an average of 54 days in 2017. The number of felony and misdemeanor cases charged have dropped. The DA’s office’s online dashboard states, “A decision to reject a case before filing means less people unnecessarily enter in the justice system only to have their case dismissed early.” Additionally, between 2015 and 2020, the number of cases with a jail sentence decreased from 2,661 to 596. That’s a 77.6% decline.

This is all occurring against the backdrop of an already heavily incarcerated city. The 53206 area code in Milwaukee is America’s most incarcerated zip code. One out of every 36 African American residents in Wisconsin are incarcerated and nearly 70% of the Black population in Wisconsin resides in Milwaukee County. Wisconsin’s rate of incarceration for African Americans, in fact, is the highest in the nation. Many facilities, whether county jails, the state-controlled Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility or numerous prisons peppered across the state are overcrowded and deteriorating.

Many of the supervisors appeared to be aware of the logistical issues stemming from mass incarceration. Whereas Ortiz-Velez questioned Chisholm on the district attorney’s office’s chronic staffing needs and inability to pay prosecutors competitive wages, Clancy wondered what community-based alternatives to incarceration could be supported.

Nevertheless, tougher on crime rhetoric also made its way into the Milwaukee County committee meeting. Logsdon echoed these calls during the Dec. 2 meeting, pleading with the district attorney to keep more people incarcerated. “As you’re aware I support and respect our police officers and our sheriff department,” said Logsdon, going on to claim “our laws have been a lot lax the last couple of years. So you have to do something pretty bad now to be put in jail, or the House of Correction because of the overcrowding.” Calling jail a revolving door Logsdon asserted, “they’re getting out too easy. And with this said, this is why we’ve seen more violence. To me this is violence.”

Audibly choking back tears Lodgson declared, “it’s because our laws are getting lax. And they know it, and they’re abusing it. We need to be tough, that’s what law enforcement is. It’s to keep up the law.” Speaking through an increasingly tearful and shaky voice Logsdon added, “marijuana is illegal in Wisconsin, and you refuse to prosecute these people. And people are seeing this, and that’s why we’re having more and more violence in our county. I beg you to address this. Get a task force from another state, another municipality. We need to be aggressive, this has to stop.”

In Milwaukee, reports of instances of stop and frisk of Black residents are an estimated rate of 9.5 times higher than for white residents. The rate of “field interviews” is also 5.71 times higher for Black residents. Non-violent drug arrest rates for Black Americans remain disproportionate despite the rates of drug use being the same as whites. “If they really want to be tough on crime, as people supposedly want, annual cases against white people in Milwaukee County would increase from 8,000 to 29,000 cases,” says Meyn. “Does that look like what people want?” In that light, Meyn questions whether the current policies in Milwaukee’s criminal justice system are progressive at all.

“The bail system that we have right now does lock a lot of people up,” Glinberg tells Wisconsin Examiner. “And an important part of reform, to reduce the problem of mass incarceration, which as we all know disproportionately falls on the poor and people of color, we’re going to need to reduce our reliance on cash bail. And there have been some efforts to make reform in that direction. And I hope that this really ugly crime, and ugly set of facts, and unfortunate fact that Brooks was already out on a relatively low cash bail, doesn’t undermine the really necessary reform that we need to make to further reduce our reliance on cash bail. It will never be a zero-risk proposition to let people out but we have a system where people in this country enjoy a presumption of innocence. And where there’s a presumption of release on cash bond, and that cash bail is supposed to be imposed to ensure appearance and, again, I hope we can continue to make the reforms that will improve that system. Because the current cash bail system, in fact, locks up a lot of people and contributes to the problem of mass incarceration.”

Vishny hopes that people take a step back after the tragedy and resist the push for more punitive policies. “There has been, over District Attorney Chisholm’s tenure, progressive reforms,” says Vishny. “It’s happened slowly, and a lot more needs to occur. But those progressive reforms are not what’s responsible for this horrible tragedy in Waukesha. In fact, Milwaukee still sends a very large number of Black people to the Wisconsin state prison system and is a contributor to over-incarceration and mass incarceration. And there are a lot more reforms that need to occur.” Vishny calls the attacks on Chisholm “political opportunism on the part of members of the state Legislature to try and go after the Milwaukee district attorney’s office.”


Wisconsin Examiner is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Wisconsin Examiner maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Ruth Conniff for questions: info@wisconsinexaminer.com. Follow Wisconsin Examiner on Facebook and Twitter.

Gov. Evers authorizes 500 Wisconsin National Guard soldiers ahead of Rittenhouse closing arguments

Gov. Tony Evers has authorized the mobilization of 500 Wisconsin Army National Guard troops in Kenosha as trial of 18-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse draws to a close. Closing arguments are expected Monday, after which the jury will begin deliberations. The Kenosha Police Department and sheriff's office also announced on Nov. 11 that local and federal law enforcement are preparing for Monday.

“We continue to be in close contact with our partners at the local level to ensure the state provides support and resources to help keep the Kenosha community and greater area safe," Evers said in a statement. “The Kenosha community has been strong, resilient, and has come together through incredibly difficult times these past two years, and that healing is still ongoing. I urge folks who are otherwise not from the area to please respect the community by reconsidering any plans to travel there and encourage those who might choose to assemble and exercise their First Amendment rights to do so safely and peacefully."

“We stand ready to support our communities during times of need." Maj. Gen. Paul Knapp Wisconsin's adjutant general. said in the same statement released by the governor's office. “In close coordination with the governor, we have assembled approximately 500 soldiers to help keep the Kenosha community safe, should a request from our local partners come in."

National Guard personnel will be stationed outside Kenosha on standby for any requests by local law enforcement agencies. As in similar situations last year, soldiers will only be able to deploy at the request of local authorities. “The National Guard may not be used to impede the ability of people to peacefully protest or impede the ability of the media to report," according to Evers' office.

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Wisconsin Examiner is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Wisconsin Examiner maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Ruth Conniff for questions: info@wisconsinexaminer.com. Follow Wisconsin Examiner on Facebook and Twitter.

Wisconsin cops investigating ‘inappropriate’ civil unrest challenge coins

The Milwaukee Police Department (MPD) is investigating whether an “inappropriate" civil unrest challenge coin was distributed within the department. Images of the coin have been distributed online, with the department confirming with Wisconsin Examiner the authenticity of the coins. Normally considered a military tradition, challenge coins are often custom-made medallions produced to commemorate a particular event or accomplishment.

Images of the coin were circulated on the website Reddit, in the r/Milwaukee sub-Reddit. In a statement to the Wisconsin Examiner MPD said it, “is aware of an inappropriate challenge coin that has been attributed to MPD. MPD did not authorize the creation or design of that challenge coin and is investigating its origin, including whether it involves any of our members."

Challenge coins created following protests and civil unrest last year have been found in several departments nationwide. In Kenosha, both the city police department and county sheriff's office created challenge coins after the unrest that followed the shooting of Jacob Blake last August. Kenosha's coins featured prominent thin blue line imagery. One of the coins depicted a riot line of officers standing over the words “hold the line" with a blue line in the background. The thin blue line has been used in pro-law enforcement flags and merchandise, and is sometimes associated with the so-called “blue wall of silence" among police officers.

Unlike Kenosha's challenge coins, those attributed to MPD don't appear to have been officially condoned by the department. The coin depicts an officer in riot gear looking on as an armored police vehicle advances on a burning dumpster. In the background, a large moon looms in the sky. The coin reads, “2020 Milwaukee riots." Over 40 days of protest occurred in the Milwaukee area last year, following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Although property damage did occur during some nights of curfew, the vast majority of protests were non-violent and peaceful. In October, MPD walked back its earlier claims that Molotov cocktails were thrown at officers during the summer, which resulted in police using tear gas and rubber bullets on protesters.

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Wisconsin Examiner is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Wisconsin Examiner maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Ruth Conniff for questions: info@wisconsinexaminer.com. Follow Wisconsin Examiner on Facebook and Twitter.

There's a big disparity in how law enforcement treats BLM protesters and far-right gangs: Former FBI agent

New details have emerged regarding a list of people law enforcement believed to be involved in Black Lives Matter protests last year. Documents recently obtained by the Wisconsin Examiner show that, despite earlier statements, the list was indeed shared with members of the Kenosha Police Department (KPD). The revelations raise questions about the extensive surveillance which targeted 2020's anti-police-brutality movement.

Although its creation date remains unclear, the list was used as early as mid-July last year. Protests in Milwaukee began around May 29, following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police on May 25. Wauwatosa's protests didn't begin until early June. Originally created by Dominick Ratkowski, a crime analyst for the Wauwatosa Police Department (WPD), the list was shared with numerous local and federal agencies throughout southeastern Wisconsin. Officially, WPD acknowledges that it was shared with the Milwaukee Police Department (MPD) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

However, internal emails gleaned through ongoing lawsuits show Ratkowski's sharing of the list was prolific. A day prior to Wauwatosa's curfew last October, Ratkowski referred to the document as a "target list" in an email. The FBI was also actively gathering information from agencies and residents in Wisconsin all summer.

Since the list was released earlier this year, WPD has shied from calling it a protester list. WPD spokespeople stated the list includes potential witnesses, victims, or suspects "that were involved with protesting or the activities surrounding the protests last summer."

However, it also includes attorneys Kimberley Motley and Deja Vishny. The pair have represented the families of people killed by former Wauwatosa officer Joseph Mensah in officer-involved shootings, as well as many protesters. The list also includes a Wisconsin Examiner journalist, vast swaths of the Milwaukee area's activist community across numerous organizations and elected officials. The earliest known emails discussing the list pre-date Mensah being suspended with pay following public pressure on the suburb. This was one of the first results of Wauwatosa's protests, which were motivated by a trio of shootings involving Mensah from 2015 to 2020. Mensah resigned from WPD in late 2020, and now works as a detective at Waukesha County Sheriff's Department.

Intel on over 200 people is documented in the list. From names to notes about criminal records and places protesters used for meetings to social media accounts, car make and model details, addresses, phone numbers, and pictures. Motley's entry labeled her as an attorney, and the Wisconsin Examiner's main Facebook page was also cataloged.

A report by TMJ4 found that 74.3% of those on the list have never been charged with a misdemeanor or felony. A 2020 University of Connecticut study found that at least 96% of Black Lives Matter protests nationwide last year were peaceful.

The Minneapolis Police Department stated in the report that "we do not keep a database of those who participate in protests," adding that the department "strongly encourages people to exercise their First Amendment rights lawfully." The Kenosha Police Department and Sheriff's Office also told TMJ4 that they don't maintain any similar list. Turns out that wasn't entirely true.

How far has it gone?

Wisconsin Examiner recently received an email from KPD via an open records request that shows the department received the list. In mid-September after unrest over the shooting of Jacob Blake subsided and the armed right-wing groups disappeared from the city, Ratkowski shared the list with Matthew Gibson, a Milwaukee DA investigator. Gibson retired from the Milwaukee County District Attorney's Office earlier this year.

On Aug. 28, Gibson asked for any lists or photographs of protesters to share with Kenosha. On Sept. 15 the list, which had been shared by Ratkowski, was sent to Kenosha PD Detective Pablo Torres, who worked for the department's Special Investigations Unit at the time.

"Here is an updated list of the subjects identified as members or associates of The People's Revolution," Gibson's email reads. The People's Revolution emerged as a nucleus of protesters who demonstrated throughout southeastern Wisconsin for over 400 consecutive days following Floyd's death. Several law enforcement personnel were cc'd in Gibson's email, including an FBI agent. The group, shortened to "TPR," is mentioned throughout the email chain. Last August, WPD denied targeting any specific groups.

Wisconsin Examiner received explanations from both Kenosha PD Lt. Joseph Nosalik and Sgt. Leo Viola. Nosalik acts as KPD's spokesperson and Viola handled the Examiner's open records request costing $100. Viola told Wisconsin Examiner that Torres, the Kenosha PD detective, was "the only KPD recipient of the list and he never shared it. The list was not circulated around the department and we were unaware of the list until your organization's reporting on it. During this time period our email servers received tens of thousands of emails and officers were not regularly checking them as a result of the unrest. We did not create and do not maintain any similar lists."

Nosalik had a similar statement when the Wisconsin Examiner followed up. "I was not aware that Detective Torres had contacted Sergeant Viola to tell him he had obtained a copy of a list. Sergeant Viola's information stands, and I will correct my information with TMJ4." He added that, "I do not see any email addresses in there that show a list was shared with a kenoshapolice.com or kenosha.org email."

Michael German, a former FBI agent of 16 years and fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University law school, says the list is problematic. "I think this part highlights the danger of creating such a list," German told the Wisconsin Examiner in a recent interview. "That once a list is created it has a permanency, and may be used by different entities in a way that it was not intended." German stresses that agencies should have seen the list as a red flag. To the extent that people are protesting, police shouldn't be tracking their names and should not collect information about their social media, their vehicles and otherwise gather intelligence about them. "And once that information escapes or is disseminated from the original collector of it, it can result in all kinds of predictable harms."

German also viewed FBI documents obtained by the Wisconsin Examiner via Freedom of Information Act requests. The records date to early August 2020, and describe how the FBI received and utilized the list following an incident outside the home of former officer Mensah.

A protest staged outside the officer's home resulted in a confrontation during which one of the marchers fired a gun, causing the crowd to scatter. Accounts differ as to what occurred, with WPD stating one shot was fired but Mensah posting on social media that several shots were fired. WPD led the investigation into the incident, which resulted in the swift arrest of several protesters. Three men later faced charges including battery to a law enforcement officer, harboring a felon, party to a crime and second degree reckless endangering safety.

The FBI documents state that two days after the incident, Milwaukee PD shared the protester list with the FBI's Milwaukee office. The documents state the Bureau received "a list of individuals that may have been involved in the 8 August 2020 events at [redacted] home. The names and date(s) of birth (DOBs) were searched in [redacted] and through open source methods for a potential nexus terrorism cases." A section also reads: "The information herein has been determined by the FBI to be pertinent to and within the scope of an authorized law enforcement activity and should be considered in the context of the assessment or predicted investigation in which the information relates."

The list itself, however, predates the incident at Mensah's by at least several weeks. Additionally, the documents indicate that all the names on it were checked and placed into an official FBI file regardless of whether the names were of people present during the incident or not. Some of those on the list were not protesters at all.

Knowing that those on the list would now be linked to a file, German wonders why FBI agents and supervisors also didn't see the list as a red flag. "This isn't something that belongs in an FBI file," he told the Wisconsin Examiner. "Because this is taking specific individuals who are identified for being at a protest and implying they're involved in some kind of criminal activity. And that can have long-lasting ramifications when there was no justification for collecting the list in the first place. Or nothing apparent in the documents at least."

In early September 2020, WPD detectives helping lead the Mensah investigation labeled Wauwatosa's mayor and others as "higher value targets" (HVT) for the department. This happened two weeks before the protester list, which is a different document, was shared with Kenosha PD. Mayor Dennis McBride was labeled a target for the investigation due to his perceived support of BLM protests and meetings with Motley and others.

Following an internal investigation into the HVT PowerPoint earlier this year, Det. Joseph Lewandowski was disciplined for creating the PowerPoint. Lewandowski was then promoted to sergeant, and moved out of WPD's investigative division. Lewandowski was associated with WPD's Special Operations Group, and authored other reports about the mayor's "questionable conduct" during protests. McBride condemned the PowerPoint after learning of its existence earlier this year. WPD's protest operations occurred under former Chief Barry Weber, who retired in June after over 30 years.

Wisconsin Examiner has recently also obtained warrants authored by WPD that sought social media information for several protesters following the August incident at Mensah's home. The warrants included everything from private messages to geographic information dating back to May 25, the day Floyd died in Minneapolis. Protests in Milwaukee did not begin until four days after Floyd's death.

In a statement to the Wisconsin Examiner, the FBI said it worked with WPD and numerous agencies during civil unrest last year. "WPD provided a list to FBI Milwaukee of individuals assessed to be present during various incidents of violent activity in their city," said FBI Milwaukee spokesperson Leonard Peace. "This information was shared with FBI by WPD, not requested by the FBI, and any names checked by the FBI were checked for an authorized investigative purpose."

"Receipt and evaluation of this information helps inform appropriate security personnel who must account for the safety and security of facilities and personnel," Peace added. "As an individual or group's ability to conduct lawful protests and seek redress from government is a right guaranteed by the First Amendment to the US Constitution, no investigative activity is initiated solely based on such protected conduct unless some indicia of criminal or terrorist activity is present."

The FBI did not answer direct questions regarding whether journalists or lawyers on the list were targeted with electronic surveillance.

German believes the FBI still holds responsibility for how it used the list. Although it was shared with the FBI by another agency, German says, "The FBI agent or analyst made the decision to serialize it into FBI files and to do these myriad searches against it. Which is even more problematic because more information could be pulled up that could be incorrect or misleading in a way that would later justify some other type of action that should have never been brought in the first place." He warns that this "reflects the dangerousness of creating lists where there is not individualized evidence presented. Because the FBI doesn't purge data from its systems except in extremely rare situations. So this lives basically forever. Certainly for your lifetime."

Why weren't right-wing groups treated the same way?

A former FBI agent himself, German sees a disparity in how BLM protesters were monitored when compared to armed right-wing groups. In Kenosha such groups, sometimes called militia, were regarded as "friendly" by law enforcement and were not arrested, tear-gassed, or told to go home by officers. In fact, an armored police vehicle was filmed offering one of the groups water and thanks.

Among the self-styled militia members who descended on Kenosha was then-17 year old Kyle Rittenhouse, armed with an AR-15 style rifle. An FBI surveillance plane flew over the city while teams of U.S. Marshals operated arrest and quick response teams on the ground. Officers closely monitored BLM protesters through social media, even along their highway journeys to Kenosha. The People's Revolution is also referenced among text messages sent and received by former Kenosha PD Chief Daniel Miskinis after the Rittenhouse shooting.

The night of the shooting, officers and dispatch also communicated about receiving calls about armed groups slashing the tires of BLM protesters. Half an hour later, Rittenhouse would fatally shoot two people and wound another. Although Rittenhouse walked towards police vehicles with his hands raised, officers did not detain the teen who then left the state. Rittenhouse is currently on trial in Kenosha. About $50 million in property damage occurred during the Kenosha unrest, though the only known deaths are associated with Rittenhouse.

FBI and Homeland Security officials didn't produce threat intelligence reports leading up to the Jan. 6 unrest and potential insurrection in Washington D.C. While Wisconsin's protester list focused on left-wing activism and BLM, no similar list appears to have been produced of right-wing protests or the Make America Great Again rallies which occurred in Wauwatosa last year.

Rep. Gwen Moore and Sen. Tammy Baldwin have called on the Justice Department to launch a civil rights probe of the Wauwatosa Police Department.

For German, the revelations about Wisconsin's protester list relate to the events of Jan. 6. He says that the handling of the list "certainly contradicts the FBI's post-Jan. 6 claims about its perceived limits on its ability to monitor social media."

"Here they are saying all this public violence by far-right militant groups that they ignored, all the myriad ways people warned the FBI including members of Congress, former Justice Department officials specially calling the FBI to warn them about this…The FBI claims it's because they somehow didn't have the authority to monitor social media," he says, "which is actually false when you look at their publicly available regulations. But here, clearly, that the FBI would try to scrutinize protestors' social media to find some link to something they call a domestic violent extremist raises all kinds of questions."

German feels that the FBI's use of Wisconsin's protester list "reflects the aggression with which the FBI was investigating the Black Lives Matter and anti-police violence and anti-racism protesters — all while seemingly ignoring far-right violence that was being committed in plain sight."

Frustration grows during first week of Kyle Rittenhouse trial as onlookers question court's impartiality

In its opening week, the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse, the Illinois teen who shot three people, killing two of them, during protests of police violence in Kenosha, has stirred questions, angst and frustration among some of the city's Black residents.

Kyle Johnson, a Kenosha native and organizer with Black Leaders Organizing Communities (BLOC), says the trial comes as many who were continuing to process the chaotic events following the shooting of Jacob Blake last year by Kenosha officer Rusten Shensky were stung by Shensky's return to duty. No charges were issued by the Kenosha County District Attorney's Office, and the Justice Department closed a review of the shooting in October. Blake was shot seven times in the back and although he survived, was left paralyzed.

Rittenhouse was 17 when he traveled from Illinois to Wisconsin during the first nights of unrest in Kenosha. He arrived armed with an allegedly illegally obtained rifle, joining groups of armed individuals who had descended on the city. Many had organized themselves on the Kenosha Guard Facebook page, with some saying they wanted to protect property or confront protesters. Whereas law enforcement spent several days surveilling, arresting and tear-gassing Black Lives Matter protesters, the right-wing armed groups were left alone.

Video from the night of the shooting shows police in an armored vehicle thanking Rittenhouse and others for being there, and offering them water. Internal Kenosha Police Department text messages and reports, obtained by the Wisconsin Examiner, also showed that officers regarded the armed groups as “friendly." Half an hour prior to the confrontation which would leave two dead and at least one person wounded in the street, officers received reports of the same armed groups patrolling neighborhoods and slashing the tires of suspected protesters.

Much of the evidence suggesting that law enforcement tolerated and even worked with these groups, has not come up in the Rittenhouse trial. Additionally, Judge Bruce Schroeder ruled early on that the people Rittenhouse shot cannot be referred to as “victims" but, as long as the defense offers evidence, can be referred to as rioters, looters or arsonists.

Schroeder said, “the word 'victim' is a loaded, loaded word. And I think 'alleged victim' is a cousin to it." The judge later said that Mark Richards, one of Rittenhouse's attorneys, may “demonize them [those who were shot] if he wants, if he thinks it will win points with the jury." Both 36-year-old Joseph Rosenbaum and 26-year-old Anthony Huber were killed during the shooting. Gaige Grosskreutz, 27, survived but lost most of his right bicep after being shot in the arm. Rittenhouse was filmed walking up to police vehicles without being detained or arrested. He was able to travel back to Illinois, where he was brought into custody.

After Rosenbaum was shot. Huber was shot as he struck Rittenhouse with a skateboard, in what the prosecutor and others argue was an attempt to disarm an active shooter. After each of them was shot, people in the crowd sought medical attention for the wounded. Rosenbaum was shot four times, and sustained a wound to the head. Rittenhouse later raised $2 million bail, and received the sympathies of then-President Donald Trump.

During the trial, Schroeder has called for breaks in the middle of testimony including, on Nov. 3, during the testimony of Kenosha PD Detective Martin Howard who helped investigate the shooting. Howard stated that initially, police were under the impression that there were four homicide victims. The presence of an additional person wounded during the shooting was also mentioned in police records obtained from other agencies. Howard testified that an individual who appears to attempt to kick Rittenhouse was shot at twice. In a video, the individual who kicked Rittenhouse can be seen limping away as Huber is shot. Law enforcement were unsuccessful in identifying this individual.

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During this particular part of the shooting, Howard stated that the fifth and sixth shots fired by Rittenhouse were directed at this additional individual. Huber took the seventh shot, while Grosskreutz sustained the eighth and final shot. In April the KPD publicly denounced independent journalist Kevin Glowicki of Never Stop Media, who reported on the possibility of an additional victim. Glowicki's reports used police reports from multiple agencies, as well as police scanner traffic from the night of the Rittenhouse shooting. The police condemned Glowicki's reports as inaccurate conspiracy theories.

One minute and 24 seconds after Howard first mentioned the fourth victim, Schroeder called for a lunch break for the jurors. Once the break ended Howard's testimony continued, with prosecutors attempting to play a video depicting Rittenhouse and other armed individuals standing near a local car shop. The person taking the video describes the group as “militia" guarding the car shop. However, Rittenhouse's lawyers objected to the video being played with audio describing the scene. Schroeder eventually allowed the video to be played partly without sound.

On Nov. 4, a juror was excused by Schroeder after telling an offensive joke about the police shooting of Jacob Blake to a sheriff's deputy. The joke was reported by the deputy to the judge. The juror argued that the joke didn't involve “Kyle," using Rittenhouse's first name, but he declined to publicly repeat the joke to the judge. Another juror was excused the following day for heath reasons arising from her pregnancy. Just one person of color was selected for the original jury set.

Schroeder interrupted the testimony of Huber's great-aunt Susan Hughes. An elderly woman, Hughes walked up to the stand with a cane. She testified to Huber's love for skateboarding and described the last conversations they shared. She noted that Huber was inseparable from his skateboard, and had dreams of opening an indoor skate park in Kenosha. According to Hughes, Huber expressed that he knew Blake personally. As Hughes began to recount the last time she spoke to Huber, Schroeder ruled in favor of objections by the defense and called for a lunch break. “They're different rules," Schroeder told the prosecutor. “And we've been talking about this all along. There are different rules. Let's take a break." Hughes re-appeared to complete her testimony after the break.

As the court dispersed, Rittenhouse's lawyers could be seen smiling and laughing. In the back of the courtroom, Huber's girlfriend and loved ones looked on with unhappy expressions. The break did not immediately occur, however, as the prosecutor continued to argue Huber's character evidence should be allowed. “Our theory as we've laid out is that these people were going to stop an active shooter, that they were provoked by Kyle Rittenhouse," said prosecutor James Kraus, adding that Huber and others were reacting to Rittenhouse having already killed Rosenbaum. “His [Rittenhouse's] actions there were of such provocation that he was an active shooter, he was a danger to all of them. The state frankly moves that Mr. Huber is a hero and we can present evidence of conduct to rebut this claim that he is aggressively pursuing Kyle Rittenhouse with no basis." Schroeder countered that character evidence for Huber doesn't rebut his striking of Rittenhouse with the skateboard, as video provided to the jury shows.

“It doesn't seem like he is impartial," Johnson says of Schroeder, “and I don't really think he's taking it seriously either. He's playing Jeopardy with the potential jurors. He's not allowing the prosecution to do certain things that don't seem like they violate … like there's no good reason to disallow that."

“I think that it just shows that he's not capable of doing the job that needs to be done in a case with such gravity that means so much to this community," Johnson adds. “And, honestly, I would love to see a different judge step in and take this case over because I think we really need someone who is going to do their due diligence and make sure that this process is carried out to its full capacity and justice."

Further heightening the unease is a growing right-wing presence in the Kenosha area. Johnson and other organizers have seen loosely affiliated groups standing in Civic Park, expressing support for Rittenhouse. Talk of armed networks of residents ready to mobilize armed patrols at a moment's notice linger in the city. “Even this week we've seen folks at various hotels with certain flags that denote themselves as belonging to the far right, or the conservative movement, or whatever you want to refer to it as," Johnson said. “It hasn't been huge numbers, but I think it's worrisome enough whether it's one person or 15 people. Because we've seen what one person with a rifle can do to a community."

“Southeastern Wisconsin, in my view, is the most racist place in the country," Johnson added. “I think that affects the state, I think it makes the state the most racist place in the country. You have Racine, which was ranked as one of the worst cities for African Americans. You have Milwaukee, which is ranked as the worst city for African Americans, North Side of Milwaukee is the most incarcerated zip code for Black men in America. And now you see what's transpired here in Kenosha. So I don't think it can be argued at this point that the tint of racism that is embedded in this community is not an issue. But I also hope folks take away the fact that there's people that are going to continue to fight against the injustices that happen."

Wisconsin Examiner is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Wisconsin Examiner maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Ruth Conniff for questions: info@wisconsinexaminer.com. Follow Wisconsin Examiner on Facebook and Twitter.

Detective who labeled Wisconsin mayor a 'higher value target' is now sergeant

Recently, the Wisconsin Examiner learned that a detective who created a PowerPoint presentation which labeled Wauwatosa's mayor as a “higher value target" was promoted after an internal investigation of the matter was completed. The PowerPoint, which was obtained through open records requests in January, shone a light on how police viewed those who supported protests against police violence in 2020.

The document was created by Joseph Lewandowski, who at that time was a detective at the Wauwatosa Police Department (WPD) assigned to WPD's Special Operations Group. The unit has several functions including conducting covert surveillance and extracting data from seized phones. Lewandowski used the PowerPoint for an in-house briefing with two WPD supervisors, according to an internal investigation. The subject of the briefing was an incident in which a gun was fired during a demonstration outside the home of former police officer Joseph Mensah.

The presentation identified four individuals as “higher value targets" for the department. Among them was Mayor Dennis McBride, who the presentation said supported the protests. Though McBride wasn't connected to the August incident the slide read, “no PC for Mensah shooting … yet," referring to probable cause. Others were also either listed directly as or in association with the so-called “higher value targets." A month later, during Wauwatosa's curfew, then-Detective Lewandowski disparaged McBride and attorney Kimberley Motley—who's mentioned among the slides—during an interrogation of an arrested protester.

Although his supervisors were aware of the PowerPoint's existence, an internal investigation wasn't launched until the Wisconsin Examiner's first report. The investigation itself was completed by February, though it wasn't finalized by the out-going Chief Barry Weber until March. Lewandowski was found to be in violation of department policies around obscene or defamatory language, and professional image. A written reprimand was placed in his file.

The investigation concluded that Lewandowski was “embarrassed by the distraction this information caused and understands the gravity of the situation." However, the investigation did not take into account Lewandowski's comments during the interrogation. It also claimed that WPD “did not conduct any investigation into Mayor Dennis McBride," but didn't include other reports Lewandowski authored on McBride's “questionable conduct" and his contact with protesters.

Other Democratic elected officials perceived as supporting Black Lives Matter protests were also referenced in Lewandowski's reports. They include Rep. David Bowen (D-Milwaukee), and Rep. Robyn Vining (D-Wauwatosa). Rep. Jonathan Brostoff (D-Milwaukee), along with Bowen, is also named in the protester list, separately made within WPD's investigative division.

The investigation acknowledged that the PowerPoint was of investigative relevance, and that all of the “higher value targets" should have been referred to as “prominent people." The report was finalized on March 1. On April 6, a little over a month after the investigation ended, Lewandowski was promoted to sergeant.

He was also moved out of the investigative division and was reassigned to the patrol division. Weber retired after over 30 years as WPD's chief on June 1. In late July, former Milwaukee PD captain and Wauwatosa-native James MacGillis took over as chief. Besides Weber, 14 other WPD staff members resigned or retired from the department between July 2020 and June 2021, about 11% of the department.

Among those who left were two captains–including one who was involved in the internal investigation–a lieutenant who became a regular face during WPD's protest enforcement actions, a detective, six officers including Joseph Mensah and two others who were still on probation, a parking specialist, a desk clerk, a dispatcher, and a station support employee. Lewandowski remains employed at WPD, and is now nearing 20 years at the department.

Wisconsin Examiner is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Wisconsin Examiner maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Ruth Conniff for questions: info@wisconsinexaminer.com. Follow Wisconsin Examiner on Facebook and Twitter.

Inside the secret Google group Wisconsin police used to monitor 2020 protests

Last year, as the streets in towns across Wisconsin filled with marches against police violence, local law enforcement agencies established numerous ways of sharing updates and information on the protests. One response was the Milwaukee County Law Enforcement Executives COVID/Protest group, which became an online hub for local agencies monitoring the movements of protesters in 2020.

Wisconsin Examiner obtained emails sent within the Google group through an open records request to the Milwaukee County Sheriff's Office. Specifically, the request asked for emails within the inbox of Sheriff Earnell Lucas.

Although it was initially created to allow law enforcement to discuss and adapt to policy changes during the pandemic's early weeks, the online group, of which Lucas was a part, shifted focus after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Within days protests were formed in Wisconsin, with Milwaukee experiencing some of the largest and most frequent demonstrations.

The Milwaukee County Sheriff Office didn't respond to a request for comment for this story. Chief William Jessup of the South Milwaukee Police Department, however, offered some insights into the group's creation and purpose. Jessup told Wisconsin Examiner that once the protests began, “We used the same Google group to exchange information and coordinate plans." Jessup was also president of the Milwaukee County Law Enforcement Executives' Association (MCLEETA) and helped “coordinate information exchanges and virtual meetings with other chiefs, often using Google group."

Jessup's name appears frequently in the group's emails, among many other law enforcement leaders, including chiefs, supervisors, and other personnel from the police departments of Milwaukee, Oak Creek, St. Francis, West Allis, Wauwatosa, Marquette University, and other municipalities. Personnel from the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), Milwaukee's intelligence fusion center, and related national security offices also sent messages.

The emails offer a glimpse of the activities and attitudes of many agencies involved in protest enforcement. On June 1, 2020 a few days after Milwaukee's protests began, Jessup sent an email out to the Google group. “If you haven't received the HSIN link to monitor the events during the protests, please send an email to Captain Craig Sarnow at the Fusion Center and he will add you to his list," wrote Jessup. “As we discussed in the call, if you have an active protest in your city with live video, the Fusion center can walk you through the steps to connect your video to the HISN." These links essentially act as secure portals for law enforcement officials to communicate and access information. These are monitored by the Fusion Center and other entities.

Jessup sent another email on June 1 mentioning the FBI's growing interest in Milwaukee's protests. “As we discussed in our call, the FBI is asking for our assistance in collecting some information about injuries, arrests, and property damage during the course of the protests." A data sheet was attached to the email, but wasn't provided as part of the records request. During Milwaukee's first protest night, officers fired less-lethal munitions at protesters. Later that night as the crowds dispersed some businesses were damaged and had goods stolen.

Although property destruction only occurred in the late evening hours, officers continued to confront daytime marchers with tear gas and other tactics. This resulted in a hearing by Milwaukee's Common Council into the Milwaukee Police Department's crowd-control methods and military-style equipment. Meanwhile, residents across the city began reporting visits by FBI agents, or receiving tickets in the mail after posting videos of themselves out past curfew. The curfew tickets were both later linked to units within the Fusion Center, and dropped by the city.

When asked about why agencies were looking for certain information on the protests Jessup recalled that, “we had a virtual meeting (group call) to plan for the ongoing protests and someone on the call asked the group for information regarding injured officers, damaged government equipment, and arrests." He added that, “I don't recall who asked for the information but I believe it was being collected to provide information to the public and to elected officials."

Some emails, however, suggest an interest in steering the narrative around the city's protests. On June 3, 2020, Jessup emailed, “As we discussed in our call, law enforcement will need to provide context to the community regarding the protests and the violent nature of some protesters. Please provide the Fusion Center with any video/photos of damage to government property, assaults on officers, and injuries sustained by our personnel. In addition, please provide the Fusion Center with any protest-related arrest information on a daily basis so they can provide that information to the FBI." Part of Fusion, called the Southeastern Threat Analysis Center (STAC), hosts a partnership with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force.

As Milwaukee's Common Council probed Milwaukee PD's gear, the department began pushing back. Then-Chief Alfonso Morales famously compared criticism of police actions to Christ's crucifixion. On June 4, West Allis' police chief sent an email with the subject line: “Getting Our Message Out." Chief Mitchel discussed suggestions he'd received regarding hiring a public relations firm and that the idea had backing from Morales and lobbyists from the Wisconsin Chiefs of Police Association. “They are in agreement that this is a state-wide need," Mitchel wrote.

Milwaukee PD would also claim it deployed tear gas and rubber bullets in broad daylight, and before a curfew, to counter of what it said were Molotov Cocktails. Subsequent investigations showed that what police claimed was a firebomb was actually just a plastic water bottle.

Heads of local departments also communicated about specific protesters. In an email sent on June 4, 2020, St. Francis PD's Chief Kevin Hunter provided an update on a protest held by local resident Bethany Crevensten. She'd planned a small protest outside the home of someone who allegedly made racist comments regarding owning Black people. That individual was also on parole at the time, Chief Hunter noted, adding, “this will not stop Bethany according to our conversation with her today, but again, sounds like it will be peaceful." A screenshot of a social media post made by Crevenseten to announce the protest was also attached to the email.

Creventsen went on to protest throughout the state alongside many other Wisconsinites over the following months. She told Wisconsin Examiner that officers from St. Francis and Cudahy paid her a house visit. “They showed up to my house and told me the whole city knows," said Crevensten. She added that, “the cops wanted to know details. What my route was going to be, followed us, sat outside. I protested for like an hour and a half." Like many other protesters, Crevensten feels she and her husband were placed under surveillance last summer. From being shadowed around town by police vehicles, to odd things happening to their phones and social media. “I try not to make a big deal out of it because I know they are watching," said Crevensten.

Like dozens of other protesters, elected officials, and one journalist, Crevensten was also placed on a list by police. The list, created by a Wauwatosa Police Department crime analyst last summer and shared with the FBI and numerous other agencies, was both called a “protester list" and a “target list" by the analyst. While that list focuses on a specific group of protesters known as The People's Revolution, it also includes activists from across Milwaukee.

Jessup told Wisconsin Examiner that his department did not receive the list from Wauwatosa PD. Emails in the Google group also included updates and information on a wide variety of left-wing protest events. He also stated that, “I don't recall any discussion regarding specific protesters. Law enforcement's goal was simply to have context when answering questions about injuries, damage, and arrests."

On June 9, 2020, Oak Creek PD's Chief Steve Anderson sent out an email requesting details on a small demonstration. “Somebody is organizing a planned chalk event demonstration at our Drexel Town Square this week Thursday," said Anderson. “I am recalling that these have been peaceful events but am wondering if any other agency had issues there was one in your community. At this time I am planning on just monitoring the area but am curious what others experienced."

The Fusion Center's Captain Sarnow responded that, by his count, there have been three such chalk events in Milwaukee. “They have all been peaceful," he said. “The crowds consisted mostly of families and their kids, and usually incorporate some speeches. They're good about posting their marching route (if applicable), gathering point, and time frame." He added, “Crowds varied with largest being approximately 300 at the event by the Art Museum."

At the Democratic National Convention (DNC) in August, Fusion again provided protest information, and another secure DHS meeting link. One email, sent on Aug. 17 by a lieutenant within Fusion, included a list of planned DNC protests. These included groups supporting Bernie Sanders, Our Wisconsin Revolution, Extinction Rebellion, Unity Fire MKE, the Coalition to March on the DNC, and others. It provided social media links, brief descriptions of each demonstration, estimates on crowd size based on Facebook commitments, and whether there were any records of potential violence, “civil disobedience," or arrests associated with any particular group or march. A small section also documented protests with approved permits, but no social media presence.

Examples of emails including the DNC protest event list

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Some departments also used the group to vent about not being able to use certain crowd-control equipment for the DNC. It was a debate which ultimately led to many departments opting to not assist in the DNC. Chief Hunter emailed about questions he'd received from local reporters on the issue. “I would not subject my officers to potential danger if they were not able to utilize all of the tools at their disposal," Hunter wrote. But he also stated that Milwaukee PD had been a good partner to suburban agencies under Morales and that “we too would respond in time of crisis if called upon."

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Discussion of counter-protesters or right-wing demonstrations were absent from the dozens of emails obtained through the Google group. Jessup told Wisconsin Examiner, “I don't recall the specific conversations in great detail and therefore cannot say whether any right-wing groups were discussed."

As the year went on and curfews would come and go, the Google group was also used to share tallies of equipment. Various departments shared spreadsheets with the group counting the number of armored vehicles, drones, tear gas, and other munitions different departments could provide. During Wauwatosa's curfew, alternate jailing options and transport vans were also discussed.

The Google group appears to have been used mainly by Milwaukee-area law enforcement agencies and their federal peers. Other departments, such as those in and around Kenosha, are absent from the Google group. However, messages gathered from other requests show that Milwaukee's fusion center also fed intelligence and social media updates during Kenosha's unrest. Details continue to emerge as to how law enforcement coordinated protest operations last year.

Wisconsin Examiner is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Wisconsin Examiner maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Ruth Conniff for questions: info@wisconsinexaminer.com. Follow Wisconsin Examiner on Facebook and Twitter.

Senate candidate faces charges of embezzlement and fraud

Milwaukee alderwoman and U.S. Senate candidate Chantia Lewis has been charged with defrauding the city and campaign donors of more than $21,000. The charges come from the office of Milwaukee District Attorney John Chisholm.

This article was originally published at the Wisconsin Examiner

Lewis is charged with five felony offenses, including misconduct in office, theft by fraud, embezzlement and falsifying campaign finance reports. The embezzlement charge alone, Urban Milwaukee reported, carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison and a $25,000 fine. Lewis says she is innocent, and calls the issues triggering the charges “accounting errors."

The criminal complaint states that she “misappropriated funds belonging to her campaign by depositing campaign contributions into her personal bank accounts, as well as using campaign funds to pay for personal expenses." It further reads that, “Lewis further falsely represented to the City of Milwaukee that she was owed reimbursement for expenses incurred on City-travel, when in fact she paid for those expenses out of her campaign account."

The investigation started in May 2020 as a review of travel expenses and campaign finance disclosures from multiple council members. Lewis is accused of misusing funds for numerous things including trips to Las Vegas, Pittsburg, Houston, Washington D.C., Little Rock, Minneapolis, and Florida. She's also accused of falsely reporting a donation more than twice the legal limit by developer Kalan Haywood, which was reported as being from three different people.

Lewis denounced the charges in a statement. “After four years as an elected official, we were recently advised, for the first time, by the DA's office about some potential campaign reporting error," she said. “Upon notification of these accounting errors, we have worked with and cooperated fully with the DA's investigation. We will make the necessary corrections. But make no mistake, I am innocent of any criminal wrongdoing."


Wisconsin Examiner is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Wisconsin Examiner maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Ruth Conniff for questions: info@wisconsinexaminer.com. Follow Wisconsin Examiner on Facebook and Twitter.

Law enforcement agencies shared 'target list' of left-wing Wisconsin protesters

“TPR target list," reads the subject line of the email. It was sent last October by Wauwatosa Police Department crime analyst Dominick Ratkowski. Attached to his email was the now infamous list of people the department created and maintained since last summer.

This article was originally published at Wisconsin Examiner

Ratkowski's email was sent one day before the city's curfew was activated last year, following the Milwaukee County district attorney's decision not to charge former officer Joseph Mensah for fatally shooting 17-year-old Alvin Cole in February 2020. The letters “TPR" refer to The People's Revolution, a decentralized group of protesters who demonstrated throughout southeastern Wisconsin.

The Wauwatosa “protester list" was known to exist since January, after other emails sent by Ratkowski were obtained by the Wisconsin Examiner. However, the list itself was not released until last month, and it documents a range of information on nearly 200 people who police view as involved in protests over the past year or longer. These most recent emails using the phrase “target list" appeared in an amended complaint filed by attorney Kimberly Motley in ongoing lawsuits stemming from police actions during the curfew.

The list, which appears to be part of a much broader effort by Wisconsin law enforcement to gather intelligence on protests, includes a variety of people, from Cole's mother and sister to Motley and her legal partners, to outspoken Democratic elected officials and this journalist. The list includes people from across Milwaukee's activist network, both well known and not, including Black Lives Matter protesters, community organizers and occasional protesters who were also involved in Milwaukee's labor rights movement fueled by COVID-19 job loss. WPD has said the list was a tool used to identify witnesses, suspects or victims of any criminal activity related to the marches.

More information is now coming to light on how the list was used. The People's Revolution grew out of the mass George Floyd-inspired marches and members continued to protest for 412 consecutive days after Floyd's murder. Although law enforcement responses to TPR varied across the county, standoffs with Wauwatosa police became common when the group began frequent Wauwatosa protests. Officers were filmed photographing legal observers and reporters and would occasionally call out to protesters by name.

During the curfew last October, several TPR protesters said they felt they'd been targeted for arrest. Tracy Cole, the mother of police shooting victim Alvin Cole, his older sister Taleavia Cole and another of his family members were arrested on the curfew's second night. Tracy was injured during her arrest and had to go to the hospital, while Taleavia was sent to the Waukesha County jail. Other protesters were detained in the City of West Allis.

Motley's amended complaint cites testimony Ratkowski gave under deposition, as well as images of various emails. Sgt. Abby Pavlik, a WPD spokesperson, was unable to answer why Ratkowski referred to the “TPR target list." When asked if specific people were targeted for arrest during the curfew, Pavlik replied, “individuals were arrested or detained that were in violation of the emergency order, city ordinances, or state law." When asked whether the list was shared with the U.S. Marshals, who were involved in the arrest of the Cole family, Pavlik responded that “the information was shared with the Milwaukee Police Department and the local FBI office."

The FBI denied a Freedom Of Information Request by the Wisconsin Examiner regarding the presence of one of its journalists on the list. The denial was vague though noted that the FBI “can neither confirm nor deny" the presence of anyone on a watch list.

Ratkowski's emails, however, show that the list was shared throughout Milwaukee-area law enforcement. An email sent on Sept. 24, 2020, suggested that the list could have been freely shared by other departments once obtained. “I attached a list of The People's Revolution members that I have been working on," Ratkowski's email states. “It identifies a large chunk of the people who were on I-94 last night. Let me know if you guys need help ID-ing people. Feel free to pass this along to who you think would find it useful."

The email was sent to Brian Conte, a member of the Milwaukee County Sheriff's Office who's also on the board of directors of the Wisconsin Association of SWAT Personnel. At the end of September, the association will hold “lessons learned" conferences on “civil unrest" in Milwaukee, Kenosha and Wauwatosa. The Milwaukee County Sheriff's Office didn't respond to a request for comment. The office also stated in a separate open records request from the Wisconsin Examiner that it had no records in response to requests for the protester list.

On Nov. 10, following Wauwatosa's curfew, Ratkowski sent the protester list to the Burlington Police Department. TPR members and other protesters had attended a Burlington School Board meeting regarding adopting anti-racism policies. Several people testified, from young people who'd directly experienced racism in the school district to parents who didn't want Black Lives Matter-inspired teachings in the classroom. The meeting ended with chanting by the protesters who'd attended the meeting. Ratkowski emailed, “I saw that Burlington had a disruptive protest at the school board meeting last night. I attached a list of known People's Revolution members. This group has been targeting the Milwaukee/Wauwatosa Area for 150+ days." He ended the message by saying, “I have been following them from the start, and know them all."

Wisconsin Examiner briefly spoke with Burlington PD's public information sergeant, who said he needed to ask around the department for more information before commenting, but has yet to respond with any comment. The West Allis Police Department was also sent the list by Ratkowski. “Yes, a deputy chief with the West Allis Police Department (WAPD) did receive the email and attached document from a crime analyst at the Wauwatosa PD," Deputy Chief Robert “Bob" Fletcher confirmed. “The WAPD did not share the list with any other agency, law enforcement or otherwise." Fletcher added that the department, “did not utilize the list provided and individuals on the list, whether they live in West Allis or not, were not placed under surveillance. On the date of the march, some WAPD officers were in the area of the event but they were not specifically surveilling any particular individual."

According to the amended complaint from attorney Motley, the list was also shared with city police departments of Racine, Brookfield, Oak Creek and Greenfield. The Marquette University Police Department also received the list, as well as the district attorney offices of Milwaukee and Racine counties.

In a previous Examiner story on the list Michael German, a former FBI agent of 16 years, and a current a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University law school, expressed concerns about such a list being passed around. “I have concerns about all of these agencies possessing this kind of record," said German. “But, more importantly, if the conclusion of these court actions are for the police department to purge this list, which seems to be appropriatehow are they going to purge it out of the fusion center? And out of the FBI? Once they've disseminated it, it's got a level of permanence that even if the FBI agrees to destroy the information, how are we not sure it continues to exist in some other place, by some other agency?"

In addition to information such as name, age, date of birth, race and gender, the list also included social media URL links and vehicle information for some of the people on the list. Some entries were more detailed than others, and at times people were identified not by their actual names but by their social media names. Motley, Tracy Cole, and Taleavia Cole, however, are among the very few individuals on the list who had their phone numbers confirmed by Wauwatosa police and put on the list. Under their names, their phone numbers can be seen, including a number under Tracy Cole's name which is noted as “likely landline." Each of those entries reads “ZetX confirmed."

ZetX is a private company which provides various cell phone-related training and services to law enforcement. Wauwatosa police spokesperson Pavlik stated that ZetX “is a free software program that provides subscriber information which the Investigative Division uses as an investigative tool. The use of the term 'ZetX confirmed' simply indicates that a number [is] associated with a name."

While the company advertises services related to pen registers and wiretaps to obtain information, Pavlik said WPD, “does not use ZetX related to pen registers or wiretaps, nor have we utilized wiretaps or pen registers 'against' Attorney Motley or Ms. Cole." ZetX didn't respond to multiple requests for comment.

The Cole family, as well as other families killed by Milwaukee-area police and the protesters who support them, have long felt they've been under various kinds of surveillance. It remains unclear exactly how far within the law enforcement and intelligence community the protester list has been shared, or whether similar protester target lists exist elsewhere in the state. Among the demands of Motley's lawsuit are that the list be purged from all agencies and departments which received it.


Wisconsin Examiner is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Wisconsin Examiner maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Ruth Conniff for questions: info@wisconsinexaminer.com. Follow Wisconsin Examiner on Facebook and Twitter.

Private security company pitched services to Kenosha sheriff days after Rittenhouse shooting

Days after unrest in Kenosha last year caught the world's attention, Kenosha County Sheriff David Beth received an email with an offer. It came from Bill Tallen, executive vice president of training for the private security company Distributed Security Inc. (DSI). “As a retired federal LEO," Tallen wrote on Aug. 31, 2020, “I sympathize 100% with your response to the request for deputization of armed citizens during the current civil unrest. However, I would like to suggest an approach that is more realistic and defensible, with advantages both for your Department and the private sector in your county."

This article was originally published at Wisconsin Examiner

Tallen was referring to comments Beth made on CNN when he rejected the idea of deputizing armed civilians. “Oh hell no," Beth declared, “what happened last night — and I think Chief Miskinis is going to talk about it, is probably the perfect reason why I wouldn't. Once I deputize somebody, they fall under the constitution of the State of Wisconsin. They fall under the county of Kenosha, they fall under my guidance. They have to follow my policies, they have to follow my supervisors, they are a liability to me, and the county, and the State of Wisconsin."

The shooting allegedly involving then 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse was still fresh in Beth's mind. An Illinois resident, Rittenhouse was among hundreds of self-styled militia members mobilized by a Facebook group calling itself the Kenosha Guard. In the hours prior to the shooting, police in an armored vehicle gave Rittenhouse's group water and thanked them for coming to town. Internal messages sent between various law enforcement agencies during those chaotic nights showed how police regarded the armed groups as friendly, and said they were there to protect property. Many questions remain today about what police did and did not know about the armed groups, and how closely they may have cooperated with them during Kenosha's unrest.

In his email to Beth, Tallen said DSI “offers training and consultation for individuals and management personnel of enterprises that wish to both enhance and take responsibility for their own security. We provide in-depth training and assistance in organization and infrastructure development for in-house (vs. contracted) armed security, for any enterprise or institution, with the fundamental requirement that such efforts be undertaken with the full knowledge and concurrence of local law enforcement, and entirely within the boundaries of applicable statutes."

Tallen stated, “This is not intended as a pathway to deputization, but only as a security solution for enterprises seeking to protect life and property in an environment where political, budgetary, and/or manpower constraints may limit the capabilities and extend the average response time of law enforcement, and leave private entities exposed to evolving threats." Jack Aubrey, a spokesperson for DSI, told Wisconsin Examiner that Beth never responded to Tallen's email. Nor has DSI been in contact with any other branches of Kenosha city or county government, the company spokesman stated.

On its website, DSI describes itself as a “private security company. We train, advise, and operate proprietary teams to actively defend enterprise life and property." Using military lingo, the company presentation state they create bases and “operate private security forces capable of defending immediate community assets" from “mob action" functioning as an “armed security cadre."

Aubrey told Wisconsin Examiner that the company did not have any personnel active in Kenosha during the unrest. “No," he said, “we do not engage in any activities that are not sponsored by an existing client and approved by local law enforcement." Aubrey stated that DSI does not “offer rent-a-guard or standard security guard services. We do offer contract security services for established clients for whom all licenses and local law enforcement approvals have been received." He added, however, that, “contract security services are retainer-based with mobilization fees paid as utilized. All clients must be on a retainer and must have completed our preliminary on-site assessment prior to deploying a team."

DSI advocates for establishing networks of “distributed security," wherein individuals or groups of individuals can be trained to defend specific buildings or neighborhoods during unstable times. Through DSI, those individuals can even be trained at a SWAT-level competency. “Every military special operator begins as an untrained civilian," Tallen said in a video posted to DSI's YouTube channel.

In that video, Tallen describes several “myths" in the context of unrest or disorder. Those include myth No. 1, “the cops will protect you," myth No. 2, “a retired cop (security guard) will protect you," myth No. 3, “technology will protect you," myth No. 4, “A gun-free zone will protect you" and myth No. 5 “civilians can't be trained to confront violence." Tallen said during the webinar video, “the enterprise doesn't need police officers. It only needs people capable of protecting innocent life and property, on the scene and in the moment that violence presents itself. Civilians are very easily trained in that narrow skill set."

Posted on June 1, 2020, the video was uploaded just days after protesters around the world took to the streets in response to the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Tallen described the protests at that time as a “wave over the last two weeks now of nationwide civil disorder." He added that the protests and unrest were fueled by, “a whole stew of divisive, polarizing political and race-based movements," as well as economic instability from COVID and other factors. “Protests, many of them violent, have occurred so far in 140 cities." Tallen said that violence breaks out from otherwise peaceful protests because “all it takes is one person acting out."

Looking back over the last year, studies now suggest that some 96% of Black Lives Matter protests were peaceful. “DSI is not concerned with peaceful protests by any group or cause," Aubrey told Wisconsin Examiner. In Kenosha, damages in the city topped $50 million, the Kenosha News reported. In September 2020, the Trump Administration's Department of Justice allocated $41 million in public safety grants to Wisconsin.

“We are concerned with civil unrest or criminal activities that result in violent threats to life and property. Such threats, which have become more frequent in many locales around the country in the last 18 months, have high consequences for those affected."

Kenosha Guard vs DSI

The company highlighted several ways in which its approach could have changed what happened in Kenosha. First, DSI stresses that an armed security force must fully analyze any situation including threat assessments, area studies or surveys, inventory of outside assets like police or EMS, as well as response times. “Understand the law," said Aubrey, “and its constraints (what you must do) and restraints (what you cannot do). Take a realistic look at the political, social, and legal environment." He stressed that, “this kind of information collection can't be done overnight."

Additionally, a strong relationship must be built between local or even federal law enforcement, and the security group. “If you can't get law enforcement concurrence and support for your efforts, you should consider probably voting with your feet — relocating — rather than trying to defend under conditions that will put you at odds with local government and the legal system."

DSI stresses that security networks must be well organized, “so you don't face a crisis with a last-minute, pick-up crew," said Aubrey. “Recruit volunteers from within the enterprise, institution, or community and vet them carefully. Neighbors and friends pitching in on the spur of the moment might be better than nothing — but it's much worse than what can be accomplished with the prior planning, organization and preparation." Aubrey stressed that “important elements" like understanding teamwork to avoid individuals aren't facing threats alone are critical. “That alone could have changed the outcomes in Kenosha," said Aubrey.

Security networks envisioned by DSI also are meant to have clear discipline through chain of command, communication capabilities and understanding use-of-force. “Make sure everyone involved clearly understands their rights and responsibilities under the law," said Aubrey, “to include the crucial distinction between defensive actions wholly within private property versus engaging in melees, or projecting force, into public areas." Aubrey points to these as some of the things DSI advocates for, which were “absent (or inadequate) in Kenosha," he told Wisconsin Examiner.

Aubrey emphasized that DSI offers “well-developed models" for how businesses, churches, schools and others can be defended during civil unrest. “In Kenosha August 2020, the response of armed citizens appears to have occurred in the midst of the crisis, improvised on the spur of the moment, on an ad hoc basis with minimal or no prior planning, coordination or training. This is not a formula for success."

Nevertheless in its June 2020 video, Tallen and other members of DSI pointed to examples of citizens taking security into their own hands during times of crisis. One example offered was the 1992 unrest in Los Angeles, during which residents of a largely Asian American neighborhood defended businesses with rifles from rooftops. Tallen pointed to this as “an iconic example" of armed citizens mobilizing to protect property “when law enforcement response was absolutely unavailable to them."

When militias go rogue

One obvious concern about the model DSI proposes is vetting and oversight of armed groups: Who is ultimately responsible for the groups when or if things go wrong? DSI says it provides the tools and training to help establish a network, but largely it's up to the people involved in that network to formulate their own outfit. At 35 minutes and 56 seconds into the company's webinar one speaker states, “If you find yourself at odds with local law enforcement, which I know some of you are at this point, then you're going to have a decision to make. But I will emphasize that all of our programs are implemented only with the approval of local law enforcement."

Aubrey told Wisconsin Examiner that “local law enforcement will be involved from the start in DSI's security models." If a group were to act outside the constraints of the law, “they would be subject to the possibility of criminal charges and/or civil action," said Aubrey. “They will be far better monitored and vetted than the groups that generate disruptive protests that sometimes develop into riots and mob action." Aubrey added that, “if law enforcement agencies were universally capable of securing their communities against riot and mayhem, these private initiatives would not be necessary. When law enforcement capabilities and response are not adequate, some will find it necessary to act on their own initiative to protect themselves. DSI offers models that would contain and control that response."

Many groups describing themselves as organized, trained, militia-style collectives descended on Kenosha during protests in the city. At times, some of those individuals could be seen fully clad in tactical gear, and were easily confused with National Guard troops. Half an hour before Rittenhouse fired his first shots, authorities in Kenosha texted one another about “armed counter-protesters" slashing people's tires. Many Black Lives Matter protesters in Kenosha the night of the shooting recalled being pursued by pickup trucks filled with armed people.

“These events, as well as the deployment of thousands of National Guard troops from Wisconsin and other states and tens of millions of dollars of property damage, were consequences of local law enforcement's inability to control the events and protect their community," said Aubrey. “In defense of Sheriff Beth, there are few jurisdictions prepared to handle incidents of this magnitude. Under the Distributed Security model, local residents and enterprises are properly trained to protect themselves in these conditions, and very importantly, potential protestors understand that local residents, under control of local law enforcement, will protect their life and property in a competent, controlled and coordinated manner. This is usually a sufficient deterrent."

As Wisconsinites processed the events in Kenosha, similar groups emerged in Wauwatosa. Militia members were arrested in an apparent plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and bring her back to Wisconsin for an unofficial “trial." The group, which called itself Wolverine Watchmen, was infiltrated by FBI informants and the plot was derailed. The surge of armed right-wing violence under the Trump Administration culminated on Jan. 6, when a crowd of Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol to halt the certification of election results and the transfer of power from Trump to President Joe Biden.

Hearings into the events at the Capitol by elected officials also focused on the question of how many current and former police and military personnel participated in what was called an attempted insurrection. According to NPR, nearly one in five defendants arrested after the Jan. 6 unrest had a military record. Other investigations by ProPublica have shown an interest among right-wing extremist groups to use military or police training to gain the needed experience to commit similar acts.

Security networks like those DSI proposes would have to deal with the challenge of vetting potential extremists. “DSI does not support or encourage extremist ideologies or any form of lawless violence," said Aubrey. “It supports enterprises and communities defending themselves against lawless violence through legal means, within their rights and in cooperation with local law enforcement."

DSI would not comment on whether it has successfully implemented this sort of model anywhere in the country. The Kenosha County Sheriff's Department would not respond to requests for comment. Tallen's email was obtained by Wisconsin Examiner via open records requests to the Kenosha County Sheriffs Department. Aubrey stressed that DSI's purpose is providing security for individuals, enterprises and institutions.

“We offer the most comprehensive training curriculum and the highest standards in the industry, relative to what it takes to be a safe and effective gun owner," said Aubrey. He added that, “every ward in the city of Chicago, or in any jurisdiction challenged by violence to which local authorities cannot respond to or control effectively, would benefit from a distributed security model."


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