Sen. Baldwin questions U.S. Marshals deployment to Wauwatosa

By: - December 18, 2020 5:00 am

Sen. Tammy Baldwin Photo by Senate Democrats via Flickr

Questions still loom over the Wauwatosa emergency declaration in October, and exactly which agencies were on the ground assisting local enforcement operations. Some of them are now coming from Sen. Tammy Baldwin, following the revelation that U.S. Marshals were on the ground during the suburb’s curfew order.

Wisconsin’s largest city was on a short list of Democratic-led cities set to receive federal support through Operation: Legend. The effort, which grew out of an earlier incarnation called Operation: Relentless Pursuit, was supposed to focus on violent crime. As the over $70 million effort took aim at crime in Milwaukee, another $10.2 million was offered to hire additional local police officers, and yet another $100,000 from ATF to install shot detection devices in the city. Meanwhile, federal forces were making headlines due to their heavy-handed tactics against protesters in Portland, Ore.

National Guard stand at the ready in Wauwatosa. (Photo by Isiah Holmes)
National Guard stand at the ready in Wauwatosa. (Photo by Isiah Holmes)

In July, several officials, including Baldwin and District Attorney John Chisholm, expressed their disapproval of the scenes coming out of Portland. “Kidnapping, false imprisonment, unlawful assault,” Chisholm said, “those are simply crimes.” Chisholm added that, “those are crimes no matter who commits them. Whether it’s a federal agent or a citizen. You can’t do that, not in the United States, and it won’t be tolerated here.”

The U.S. Marshals, Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) were among the agencies involved in Operation: Legend. Baldwin said she received assurances that Operation: Legend wouldn’t become a proxy deployment for protest enforcement. Nor would what happened in Portland play out in the Milwaukee area.

Were those promises kept? After hearing of recent reporting that the U.S. Marshals assisted the Wauwatosa PD’s Special Operations Group (SOG), Baldwin expressed concern.

“Senator Baldwin is concerned that federal Marshals would be deployed to assist a local police department in responding to citizen protests, as that would seem to be entirely outside their role as a federal law enforcement agency,” a member of Baldwin’s staff told Wisconsin Examiner. “Given the assurances U.S. Attorney [Matthew] Krueger gave the community this summer, she believes he should shed some light on whether there was a deployment of Marshals as part of Operation: Legend, and how that would be an appropriate use of federal law enforcement resources.”

A spokesperson for Krueger’s office responded. “The U.S. Marshals Service’s assistance in Wauwatosa had no connection to Operation: Legend, which is an initiative to address the unprecedented spike in violent crime in Milwaukee.”

“The U.S. Marshals Service did not use any Operation: Legend resources in Wauwatosa. Rather, the U.S. Marshals Service provided assistance at the Wauwatosa Police Department’s request, as part of the U.S. Marshals’ long-standing mission of aiding local law enforcement, along with numerous other agencies and National Guard members deployed by Gov. Evers, to prevent violence and property destruction.”

The role of the police in our society has been under a microscope since the killing of George Floyd by the Minneapolis Police Department in May. Local Policing is an ongoing series analyzing the culture, tactics and actions of departments big and small across Wisconsin. If you have a story to share about your local police, reach out to reporters Isiah Holmes and Henry Redman at [email protected] and [email protected].

On Oct. 7, Krueger issued a statement leading up to the protests in Wauwatosa later that day. “This afternoon, the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office announced that it will not pursue criminal charges related to the officer-involved shooting of Alvin Cole,” said Krueger. “Federal law enforcement in Wisconsin is sworn to protect First Amendment rights, which include the rights to speak and assemble ‘peaceably.’ In the past year, however, in addition to witnessing peaceful protests, some Wisconsin communities have suffered episodes of violent civil unrest.”

He added that, “federal law enforcement is joined with state and local authorities to address any further violence. Federal law imposes serious penalties for arson, rioting, firearms offenses, and other violent crimes, which we will prosecute to the fullest extent possible. No one else in Wisconsin should become a victim of needless violence or face destruction of a business as a result of unrest.” Months earlier, as protests in Wauwatosa began ramping up, Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Menomonee Falls) urged Wauwatosa to accept federal troops, “in order to bring peace and tranquility back to the community.”

Wauwatosa residents stand outside city hall as curfew approaches. (Photo by Isiah Holmes)
Wauwatosa residents stand outside city hall as curfew approaches. (Photo by Isiah Holmes)

Property damage, specifically rocks thrown through windows, occurred in parts of Wauwatosa and along the Milwaukee border on Oct. 7, the day Chisholm announced his decision. No arson happened, however, and the damage was not anywhere near the scale of the unrest in Kenosha, or even in Milwaukee during 2016. During that first day, law enforcement appeared focused on protecting Wauwatosa’s City Hall and Mayfair Mall, which is also near the Wauwatosa Police Department (WPD).

So-called “snatch teams” were seen in Wauwatosa during Oct. 8 and Oct. 9 picking up protesters on the street. Dozens of people were arrested, and protesters reported that officers seemed keen on catching specific people.

Some protesters also had their phones taken by the police and held for days or weeks after the curfew ended.

Taleavia Cole’s phone was taken, and wasn’t returned for weeks by WPD. Her lawyers have stated the phone appears to have been tampered with while in police custody. WPD Chief Barry Weber, following the curfew ending, said in a Oct. 12 press conference that the phones were likely being kept for investigative reasons. Tosa PD SOG, among other things, specializes in cell phone data recovery and analysis.

Protesters march toward Wauwatosa as the curfew sets in. (Photo by Isiah Holmes)
Protesters march toward Wauwatosa as the curfew sets in. (Photo by Isiah Holmes)

While it’s known that the U.S. Marshals assisted SOG as a “quick response team,” exactly what the agency was doing in Wauwatosa is unclear. In August, as President Donald Trump threatened to send Portland-style forces to other cities, Gov. Evers rejected the deployment of Homeland Security agents, as well as U.S. Marshals and Border Patrol, which were the agencies responsible for the snatch-and-grab operations in Portland. Evers did accept help from the FBI, and many arrested protesters report having been interviewed by FBI agents.

In Portland, federal agents were particularly focused on protecting federal buildings and property. Wauwatosa does not have federal buildings, statues, and other such property to protect. WPD has not yet responded to open records requests that might shed light on what the federal agents were doing in Wauwatosa. The U.S. Marshals Service has also not yet responded to a request for comment.

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Isiah Holmes
Isiah Holmes

Isiah Holmes is a journalist and videographer, and a lifelong resident of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His writing has been featured in Urban Milwaukee, Isthmus, Milwaukee Stories, Milwaukee Neighborhood News Services, Pontiac Tribune, the Progressive Magazine, Al Jazeera, and other outlets.