Earlier this week I commented on Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel’s total tone deafness related to his Department of Justice investigation into the shooting death of Sylville Smith at the hands of the Milwaukee Police Department. I am not the only one feeling this way…witness today’s article by Bruce Murphy over at Urban Milwaukee:
Then there’s the fact the state investigation is using retired Milwaukee police officers in the Smith probe. The AG told the media he doesn’t see a conflict in using MPD officers: “Milwaukee PD has about 2,000 sworn officers as I understand. The likelihood that there would be some relationship between a particular patrol officer, who’s going to be much younger than an experienced detective… is small. And if there is any relationship at all, that officer, that investigator would not be permitted to have any role in the investigation.”
This is not the first time former Milwaukee officers were used in such a state investigation. They were also used in the 2014 investigation of Milwaukee officer Christopher Manney who shot and killed Dontre Hamilton in Red Arrow Park.
At the time, Bies [Garey Bies (R-Sister Bay)] told Fox 6 he trusted the state agents to be impartial, but thought their ties to the Milwaukee department could make the public suspicious: “I would’ve thought that whoever made those assignments maybe would’ve considered those issues and… made a better decision and put a different investigator on.”
In short, perception matters. As it turned out, many in Milwaukee have never accepted the decision that determined Manney wasn’t criminally culpable and there have been periodic protests since then. But the stakes are far higher in the Smith killing, which touched off a near-riot. Whatever the decision that’s made, it’s critical that it looks as fair as possible, with no perception of favorable treatment.
But how “independent” does the investigation look when you have Milwaukee officers investigating a fellow member of the force? Under the circumstances, you have have to ask why Schimel hasn’t simply looked for other retired officers — whether from the Madison, Racine or any other city — to conduct the Smith probe.
But Mr. Murphy goes me one better…and it’s because they have been spending a lot of time following political contributions around the state. But if a perception of bias by the former MPD officers doing the investigation doesn’t bother AG Schimel, why would this:
But questions have arisen about Schimel’s links to Milwaukee police. For starters, he has been a frequent recipient of campaign donations from the Milwaukee Police Association. The police union gave him five donations of $500 between May 2014 and October 2015, as Gretchen Schuldt has reported for Wisconsin Justice Initiative.
What can possibly go wrong here?