Wauwatosa Police Chief Barry Weber. (Photo | Isiah Holmes)
Wauwatosa Mayor Dennis McBride was identified as a “higher value target” by his own police department, according to an internal PowerPoint presentation created by Wauwatosa police. The PowerPoint, sent in an email on Sep. 1, 2020, was forwarded by a member of the department’s Special Operations Group (SOG) to a supervisor in the department’s Investigative Division.
Wisconsin Examiner exclusively obtained the internal presentation as part of an open records request filed on Oct. 19, 2020. It’s unclear when exactly the document was originally created, and whether it was used as briefing material by the Wauwatosa Police Department (WPD). What is clear is that the PowerPoint was created in the wake of protests that flooded the suburban city after fatal police shootings involving police officer Joseph Mensah, who resigned in November.
As the marches continued, the city was forced to confront its troubled history of racism and police violence. During the summer, as Mensah’s third shooting over a five-year period was being reviewed by the District Attorney’s office, McBride and the city organized a public listening session in Wauwatosa’s Hart Park. For over four hours, the Common Council and other city officials listened to the public vent concerns about the police and the city’s painful history.
McBride also met privately with several community members, including protesters with The People’s Revolution (TPR), state representatives, Wauwatosa Police Chief Barry Weber, and others to help gather their individual perspectives on community concerns. Lawyers Kimberley Motley and Deja Vishny, who represented the families of those shot by Mensah, as well as protesters who were arrested and fined after marching in the city, have also met with the mayor.
These meetings appear to have focused police attention on McBride. One PowerPoint slide states that McBride “sanctioned violence against Mensah” and “continually provides outright lies and misleading information to the public.” It further states that the mayor “permitted The People’s Revolution to run City of meetings [sic], has had discussions and Q&A sessions not outlined on meeting agendas, in violation of Open Meetings law.” The slide concludes: “No PC [probable cause] involvement in Mensah shooting…yet.”
The “Mensah shooting” is a reference to an incident which occurred in August when protesters gathered at Mensah’s house and Mensah came outside to confront them. At some point one of the protesters fired a gun, causing Mensah to go back inside and the crowd to disperse. No one was injured, but three individuals involved in handling the gun were arrested during no-knock raids. WPD investigated the incident.
The incident, and the three individuals who were arrested for their involvement, are mentioned in the PowerPoint identifying McBride as a “higher value target.” A WPD spokesperson said a “high value target” means “a person or place of significance,” in WPD parlance, although she noted, “We don’t have a glossary of terms.”
‘Not someone the police want to protect’
Ricky Burems, a former Milwaukee Police Department detective and officer who retired in 2014, shed more light on the term. “A high value target is something or someone that a police department would deem a high priority, as far as allocating personnel and resources in order to apprehend that high value target,” he told Wisconsin Examiner. “A good analogy that I could use was when the military was in pursuit of Osama bin Laden. And he was considered, at one time, probably the highest value target. But that’s what a high value target is. It’s something that is very high priority, that you want to allocate personnel and resources to in order to impede their progress or take into custody.”
Burems says a “high value target” is not someone the police want to protect. “Even the termanology ‘target,’ isn’t something that you would protect. It’s more of something that you would attack. I mean, if you were to protect someone you wouldn’t refer to them as a target. You would refer to them as an asset, but not a target. And to be honest around you, I’m trying to wrap my head around this: Why would a police department deem a mayor and other politicians, or other citizens who are not involved in criminal activity, as high value targets?”
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The PowerPoint identifying the mayor as a high value target was sent in an email by WPD Detective Joseph Lewandowski. According to the WPD annual report for 2019, Lewandowski was one of the detectives assigned to the Special Operations Group (SOG). Wisconsin Examiner‘s open records request also pertained to specific items in the email inboxes of SOG personnel.
The SOG is intended to focus on crimes such as drug overdose investigations, armed robberies and theft complaints. The unit spends “a significant amount of time,” reads the report, “conducting covert surveillance, locating wanted suspects, making apprehensions and providing technical support with cell phone data recovery and analysis.” SOG also worked alongside the U.S. Marshals arresting protesters during the Wauwatosa emergency declaration in October.
On Oct. 10, 2020, Lewandowski conducted an interrogation of an arrested protester. Video of the interrogation was sent to Wisconsin Examiner and numerous other media outlets and to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Wisconsin in answer to open records requests. The emailed PowerPoint, and the interrogation video, were part of separate records releases. The video was released on Jan. 7, while the emails sent only to the Examiner were released the following day.
During the more than hour-long interrogation, Lewandowski shares some strong words about both McBride — whom he describes, using an expletive, as a coward — and Motley. He also touches on the three people Mensah killed in fatal officer-involved shootings stating, “They all chose that.”
McBride appeared surprised when the Examiner showed him the PowerPoint slide indicating he was a target for police. Later, after speaking with Weber, he provided the following statement: “The PowerPoint presentation seems to have been prepared by a WPD investigative unit for the purpose of continuing the investigation of protesters who might have broken the law during the August 7th incident.”
Mayor: ‘allegations are scurrilous’
He added, “this morning, Police Chief Barry Weber, who was not previously aware of the PowerPoint presentation, has assured me that the WPD never considered me a ‘high value target’ or to be involved in the August 7th incident or any similar incident. He told me that WPD has never sought, or accumulated, evidence against me to substantiate any criminal allegation.”
McBride further stated that, “the PowerPoint allegations are scurrilous. As Mayor, I have met with WPD officials, protest leaders, members of community groups, and others in an effort to find common ground and a path forward for our polarized community during a difficult time. All my actions have been directed at protecting and improving my hometown.”
“On July 14, 2020, the Wauwatosa Common Council passed a resolution directing the City Administrator and Police Chief to ‘facilitate the transition’ of Officer Mensah from his WPD employment. I signed that resolution. The following week, the WPD police union held a press conference denouncing the actions taken by the Common Council and me.”
“It is in this context that the PowerPoint must be viewed: a few disgruntled union members expressed their personal opinions in an inappropriate fashion while on duty. Regardless of the context, strong opinions do not justify inappropriate behavior. Public employees have a legal obligation to do their job without regard to their personal opinions, and certainly have an obligation to ensure that their statements are not untruthful or misleading.”
As of press time, neither Lewandowski nor Weber nor a WPD spokesperson had responded to a request for comment regarding the PowerPoint. Any response from WPD will be added here.
McBride also says he was told the WPD is launching an internal review of the matter. “When the PowerPoint was created, the creators violated these obligations to the City and the public,” he said in his statement. “Such actions can only drive a wedge between the WPD and the people it serves. Chief Weber has informed me that he is opening an internal investigation of any WPD employee who contributed in any way to the creation of the PowerPoint. It is my understanding that discipline of those responsible is likely. Such discipline is appropriate. The Common Council and I have heard the calls for change in our community and we take them seriously. It is our goal to make Wauwatosa a model for meaningful change for all communities. We will continue our efforts in this new year.”
Targeting those who speak out
The PowerPoint and video fit a pattern in which WPD has singled out elected officials and others who have criticized the department. After the public listening session Weber called for Sean Lowe, chair of the Wauwatosa Equity and Inclusion Commission, to be removed from his seat and questioned the value of the commission.
WPD officials, including from the Wauwatosa Peace Officers Association, would later call for the disbanding of the ad hoc committee on Policing and Systemic Inequalities and later blasted several alders, including Matthew Stippich, Nancy Welch and former alder Heather Kuhl after they supported police reform policies for WPD.
The same day Lewandowski sent the PowerPoint to a supervisor in the WPD’s Investigative Division, Weber sent a letter to the Office of Lawyer Regulation. “I find it peculiar,” wrote Weber, “that although no one has ever filed any actions in these two earlier cases, after Ms. Motley began representing the Cole family, she somehow convinced the other families to retain her as their attorney. I believe she … has unethically convinced two families to have her represent them just to build her allegations that Officer Mensah is a murderer.”
Weber also wrote of Motley, “she continues to cause unrest in the community by refusing to temper her remarks or behavior. I find her conduct offensive and she is unethically referring to a police officer as a murderer. Mensah has never been charged with murder or convicted of such. I do not believe an attorney has the right to slander, defame, or libel another person. Especially a police officer who has not been accused or convicted.”
Weber concluded, “I believe disciplinary action should be taken against her, and that she be cautioned about making inappropriate and misleading statements about a legal proceeding; whether or not she does so in person, writing or a social media posting.” On Nov. 3, 2020, the Office of Lawyer Regulation wrote back, “While these statements may have been personally offensive to you and your department, the statements do not appear to violate the rules of professional conduct.”
The day after Weber sent the letter and Lewandowski emailed the PowerPoint, WPOA president John Milotzky issued an official press statement calling for the disbanding of the ad hoc committee. In the statement, Milotzky notes McBride’s meetings with the chair of the ad hoc committee, Rep. David Bowen and others who supported the protest movement in the suburb. It also makes reference to attorney Motley, and her representation of several people involved in the protests.
Motley is skeptical of McBride’s assurances that an internal investigation will solve the problems at WPD. “I can’t underscore enough that Mayor McBride is compromised,” she told Wisconsin Examiner. “I ask myself, ‘why did he unilaterally approve this curfew without going to the common council?’ This may be why. Did he feel pressured? Did he feel backed into a corner by his own police department? Did he feel powerless?” In addition to firing the chief, Motley argues that WPD should be subjected to a federal probe, and ultimately be disbanded.
She’s not satisfied with the city’s response so far. “Wauwatosa PD leadership, namely Chief Weber, Joseph Lewandoski, and John Milotzky, they’re policing practices are rotten to the core. And this demonstrates that their policing culture is toxic, and they’ve been able to do this with impunity, forever,” she says.
“Chief Weber runs Wauwatosa,” adds Motley. “John Milotzky is president of the Wauwatosa Peace Officers Association. And, personally, I am going to do every single thing that is legally available to me to protect my clients and to make sure that they get the justice that they deserve,” Motley added. “And I’m going to do everything to protect myself to make sure that they are held accountable for everything that they’re doing.”
The PowerPoint slide can be viewed here.
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