Black Lives Matter protesters gather and march to the Milwaukee City Hall during 2020. Many called for the removal of Milwaukee Police Chief Alfonso Morales. (Photo | Isiah Holmes)
Former Milwaukee Police Chief Alfonso Morales has reportedly reached a $626,000 deal with the city and will not be re-assuming his old job. Details must be approved by Milwaukee’s city council, but it for now the chief won’t be coming back to work this week.
Some elected officials and activists in Milwaukee were appalled when they heard about the prospect that Morales would return as chief of police. Last August, Milwaukee’s Fire and Police Commission (FPC) demoted Morales to the rank of captain, following fallout from the department’s handling of Black Lives Matter protests early last summer. But Morales fought to get his old job back and in May Milwaukee County Judge Christopher Foley sided with his attorneys, who argued that he had been improperly dismissed, and ruled that he must be reinstated. Morales was planning return to his old position on Thursday.
Morales’ demotion was one of the first concrete results of community dissatisfaction expressed in protests last year as the city probed the department’s use of force against protesters in late May and early June of 2020. As in many other cities, protesters were met with tear gas and rubber bullets. Morales stirred controversy when he compared criticism of police to Jesus Christ being crucified.
“Two-thousand years ago an angry mob came before people to say ‘crucify that man,’ that man being Jesus Christ,” said Morales. “What are angry mobs doing today? We say we are civilized. But are we really? Just think about that.” He went on to say, “law enforcement is being crucified. That’s what they want. That’s what these angry mobs are doing. There are several different groups out there protesting, there are peaceful protesters that are angry for what happened in Minnesota and we get that and we will work with them. There are also people taking advantage to loot our city, to burn our city.”
In response to Morales’ comments, 13 out of the Milwaukee Common Council’s 15 members signed a letter asking him to stop using bombastic language to describe peaceful protesters. The chief was also given a list of directives by the FPC to fulfill on a deadline, mostly having to do with providing information regarding actions taken by police at protest events. Morales did not complete the directives.
After Morales was demoted in August, commissioner Raymond Robakowski called his conduct as chief, “unbecoming, filled with ethical lapses and flawed decisions.” To replace Morales, acting chief Michael Brunson, who had served under Morales, stepped in. When Brunson stepped down another acting chief, Jeffery Norman, took over, and has remained in the chief’s chair since then.
In December a Milwaukee County Circuit Court judge reinstated Morales’ rank and position on grounds that the FPC had not followed the proper procedure in demoting Morales. In February FPC Commissioner Steven DeVougas resigned. DeVougas, who left citing conflict of interest in the police department in 2019, was the FPC’s second resignation in five months.
According to court filings, Morales now lives outside the 15-mile distance from the city limits required for all Milwaukee police officers. If he were to return as chief, Morales would be the first in Milwaukee’s history to run the department while violating the 15-mile rule.
“Although the problems with law enforcement in Milwaukee are systemic rather than the result of any one individual,” Milwaukee County Supv. Ryan Clancy told Wisconsin Examiner, “Chief Morales has shown himself to be resistant to even moderate policing reforms and hostile to more substantial efforts.” Jessica Klein, an attorney and Milwaukee resident who participated in more than a year of protests, echoed Clancy’s concerns.
“Morales’ legacy is tainted with distrust within the police department internally, as well as the community of Milwaukee as a whole,” said Klein. “Morales has been indecisive, divisive, and wholly uncooperative with those who have been pushing hard for police reform and accountability since the onset of protests last summer. His decision to deploy tear gas against protesters and the overall pushback against the FPC directives are sure signs of the turmoil and resistance that will persist under his command.”
Rep. Jonathan Brostoff (D-Milwaukee) called the prospect of Morales returning “terrible at every angle.” Brostoff noted that even without a new settlement, the chief will enjoy a six-figure pension from the city. “And he’s already gotten paid tons and tons of money from us,” said Brostoff. “I don’t know if he really wants the job, or if he’s just using it as leverage for even more of a payout. But it’s further proof that he really doesn’t give a damn about the city of Milwaukee. Because if he did, he would just go away. This lawsuit is going to take even more resources away from a community that’s already woefully under-resourced, and that could be using it for violence prevention and other things.”
Brostoff points to dysfunction in the department that grew “under his nose or possibly with his blessing” as “a big part of the reason why people want him gone.” He includes the use of force and surveillance against protesters and the leak from the department that led to DeVougas stepping down as examples.
“He’s going to sue and take even more money away from a community that’s already spending almost 50% of its budget on the police to begin with,” says Brostoff. “And now he’s just going to line his pockets, take that money, and get out of this city… It just really shows that he really doesn’t have regard for the people in this community.”
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