Complaints mount over conduct of Whitewater PD

Reports of racial profiling and excessive force under suspended chief

By: - June 13, 2022 7:00 am
A Whitewater Police Department officer. (Photo | Whitewater PD Facebook page)

A Whitewater Police Department officer. (Photo | Whitewater PD Facebook page)

For some time now, the Whitewater Police Department (WPD) has been under a cloud. Since December, the department’s police chief Aaron Raap, has been on administrative leave pending an ongoing internal investigation. Raap, who was hired as chief in 2018, was taken into custody following an alleged Thanksgiving fight with a family member. Though the Waukesha County District Attorney’s Office declined to issue charges, other controversies have also emerged during Raap’s time in Whitewater.

Whitewater Police Chief Aaron Raap (Photo | Whitewater PD Facebook page)
Whitewater Police Chief Aaron Raap (Photo | Whitewater PD Facebook page)

D’Angelo Lux, a former UW-Whitewater student who started at the university in 2015, began questioning the conduct of Raap’s officers after having his own series of bad experiences. The 6-foot-1-inch tall, 280-pound former defensive lineman was attracted to UW-Whitewater by its football program. For Lux, now 24 years old, fond memories of playing for the Warhawks and enjoying college life have been corrupted over time by his run-ins with WPD officers.

“All I know is that Whitewater was a school that I decided to go to because of a football program,” Lux told Wisconsin Examiner. “And I wanted to have that college experience. And you know, the cops really started to turn good memories into bad ones. So, I don’t really have much to say about the city of Whitewater in that aspect. I just pretty much want to be done with the place.” Lux never finished his bachelors degree, and his experiences with WPD officers are now the subject of a civil lawsuit.

D'Angelo Lux in 2019 with friends. (Photo | Facebook)
D’Angelo Lux in 2019 with friends. (Photo | Facebook)

One of those experiences occurred in 2018, a few months after Raap took the helm of WPD. Lux, a junior at the time, was at a bar with friends and got into a verbal altercation with another customer. “And then the cops came and told me it was my time to go, so me and my buddy left,” said Lux. “The guy that we were having the argument with [was] actually leaving at the same time we were, so we were exchanging words in the street.” The disagreement never got physical. “We were just yelling at each other kind of,” said Lux. “You know how guys do.” At that point a police vehicle pulled up, putting an end to the argument.

Now walking away, Lux and his friends were confronted by an officer he identified as then-Lieutenant Adam Vander Steeg. Lux recalled the officer “tried to order us to come over to him, and we were like, ‘No, there’s nothing going on. We’re just going home.’ And he just wasn’t taking that as an answer.” Lux said that Vander Steeg caught up to the group and grabbed him, telling Lux he was under arrest. Lux said one of his friends began recording with a phone, after which another one of their group was grabbed and detained. “One of them was instructed to get off of me and handle the phone situation,” said Lux. “So one got off me and ran over to my buddy, slammed his face into the back of the car that was in front of us. And then the phone was knocked out of his hand.”

D'Angelo Lux #93 on the football field. (Photo | Michael McLoone, UW-Whitewater Athletics)
D’Angelo Lux #93 on the football field. (Photo | Michael McLoone, UW-Whitewater Athletics)

Body camera footage obtained by the Wisconsin Examiner shows one of the officers arriving on the scene after Lux was already being detained. “These are my friends, you’re scaring them,” one of Lux’s friends said to the officers, who repeatedly told them to “step back.” The friend who’d been detained shortly after Lux  asked why he was under arrest, although he wasn’t immediately given an answer. He asked the officers why the other person involved in the argument wasn’t being arrested, and showed that one of his teeth had been damaged.

 

Lux had already been taken down to the ground. Officers told Lux to roll onto his stomach, making him put his face into a thick current of rainwater running through the gutter. He rolled onto his stomach, submerging his face and taking in four breaths of the streaming rainwater. When officers rolled him the other way, Lux spat out the gutter water. Lux lay on the ground for another minute before officers got him onto his feet and placed him in the back of a squad car. They accused him of resisting arrest and ordered him to comply. “It’s all on camera,” one of the officers said, “this is ridiculous. Sit in the car, you can watch it in court!”

As he sat in the squad car, officers asked Lux if he played any sports for UW-Whitewater. Lux confirmed that he played football. “This is not going to be good for you,” said one of the officers. As the officers gathered to discuss what occurred, they shut off the audio on their body cameras. The body camera audio wasn’t reactivated for nearly two minutes, after the officers conversed and walked back to their cars.

D'Angelo Lux #93 on the football field. (Photo | Michael McLoone, UW-Whitewater Athletics)
D’Angelo Lux #93 on the football field. (Photo | Michael McLoone, UW-Whitewater Athletics)

Lux had another encounter with WPD a few years later in 2021. He’d just left his shift working at a local pub, where he had had a couple of drinks, and was giving two of his friends a ride when the police pulled him over.  “They said I rolled through the stop sign,” Lux recalled. His friends got out of the car, and he got out of the driver’s side to talk to the police officer, who smelled alcohol on his breath. “He told me to do a field sobriety test. I did that and then after that … [he] told me that I failed, and that he’d be taking me into custody.”

The field sobriety test required Lux to walk in a straight line, and balance on one foot until the officers said to stop. Several other officers arrived on scene, directing Lux’s friends to step back. Lux said the number of officers made him nervous, and he was distracted at several points by his friends. The officers conversed with Lux for a few minutes before initiating the test. His friends were offered the chance to walk home, but they continued to watch Lux’s interaction with the police.

When the officers began arresting Lux, he was surprised and said, “Whoa, that happened so fast.” One of the officers told Lux to stop resisting as another yelled, “Relax!” Seconds later one of the officers fired a taser, bringing Lux to the ground. “You’re going to get it again,” one of the officers yelled as Lux screamed, now on his stomach with arms behind his back. The taser prongs were still attached to Lux as he was handcuffed. His friends and other onlookers can be heard in the video expressing their outrage in the background. Lux recalled that he was issued citations following the incident.

 

“You try to not take it personally,” said Lux. “You try to think that they’re not doing what they’re doing. And it’s frustrating.” Over time, Lux heard stories similar to his from other UW-Whitewater students and community residents. “I’ve heard other stories of the Whitewater PD being too physical, and too hands-on,” said Lux. “It’s definitely been a trend there. It’s never really changed, from my freshman year all the way through.” It took time for Lux to hear those other stories, however. Prior to his 2018 encounter he hadn’t had any problems with the police, and once his troubles began, he told Wisconsin Examiner, “I thought it was just happening to me.” But when Lux and his mother went to university staff with concerns about the behavior of officers, they were told other students had stories as well.

In early June 2019, Raap promoted Vander Steeg, one of the officers involved in his first encounter, to the rank of captain. “Adam is a leader within our police department and will undoubtedly continue to provide excellent service to our community in his new position,” Raap said. WPD is a department of just 24 sworn officers and 13 civilian personnel.

A pattern at Whitewater PD

Wisconsin Examiner reached out to the Black Student Union of UW-Whitewater, as well as other staff, but didn’t hear back. No one on the city’s common council offered comment either, even after a council meeting was held regarding Raap’s continued employment by the city on May 3. Deputy Chief of Police Daniel Meyer, who has served as acting chief since Raap was placed on paid administrative leave, said no action was taken by the council that day. Meyer also provided data and reports on citizen complaints against officers since 2018, when Raap arrived at the department.

“Since Chief Raap has been employed by the WPD,” Meyer emailed Wisconsin Examiner, “two officers have been disciplined pursuant to internal investigations regarding use of force, however, neither investigation was complaint-driven.” A complaint of excessive force against a WPD officer was made on Feb. 5, 2022. There were 10 complaints in 2019. The number dropped to just three in 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic set in. The following year in 2021, however, the number rose to 8 complaints against WPD personnel.

A Whitewater Police Department officer with one of the department's K9's. (Photo | Whitewater PD Facebook page)
A Whitewater Police Department officer with a department K9. (Photo | Whitewater PD Facebook page)

Several complaints filed during 2018 involved accusations of harassment and discrimination. One complaint was filed against an officer for an alleged illegal stop and detainment of a citizen. The letter from Raap’s office noted that, “you indicated that you feel that you are being harassed due to the fact that the vehicle you have been in/or operating has been stopped on two or more recent occasions.” Meyer, a captain at the time, completed an investigation into the complaint. Accusations of excessive force were thrown out because officers “appeared to use only that force necessary to overcome your resistance to their legal, lawful orders.” The investigation added that the driver was operating without a valid license, “regardless of whom the officer initially believed you were at the time of the stop.”

Other complaints filed that year involved a mother who arrived on the scene of her son’s traffic stop, which she felt was racially motivated. Another involved a woman who, according to the complaint, felt she was “treated unjustly because of their race.” The woman reported that she and her boyfriend had been “humiliated, degraded, and treated like common criminals” by officers during a traffic stop. Another father said his middle-school aged son was needlessly handcuffed and questioned why officers didn’t activate their body cameras.

 

2018 Citizen Complaints

 

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Not all of the complaints involved conduct by officers. One made in June 2018 involved a dispatcher who was accused of unprofessional conduct for not providing a name and other information to a citizen who called for help locating a missing person. Raap’s office responded by saying the dispatcher was not required to give a name and the person in the case was not missing.

A citizen reported that the dispatcher wouldn’t provide a name, and wouldn’t email the citizen paperwork in order to file a missing persons report. A letter issued by Raap’s office defended the dispatcher, stating that dispatchers are only required to give a badge number. “Additionally, the dispatcher could not supply you with an emailed missing persons report as that is not our process AND it was determined that the person who you wished to report missing was, in fact, not missing. The dispatcher offered to connect you with an officer and/or supervisor which you declined.”

 

2019 Citizen Complaints

 

Every complaint filed in 2018 was classified as “exonerated,” meaning an investigation confirmed that an incident occurred but that it was justified. The 10 complaints the following year followed a similar pattern, from accusations of unreasonable searches with dogs to reports of excessive force and harassment.

In 2021 the trend continued. A complaint by a driver that an officer allowed another car to leave the scene of a hit and run was ultimately sustained by the department, and the driver who was at fault was later cited. Another complaint came from a person who reported having “almost died in custody, was transported with no seat belt, had an asthma attack, was fearful for their life, and that an officer had a vendetta against them,” police records state. The investigation found the complaint was without merit and unfounded. Other complaints involved officers who rang a citizen’s doorbell multiple times and refused to leave when asked. There were also reports of officers not fully investigating incidents, including one of an officer allegedly not taking a child’s complaint of abuse seriously enough. Unwarranted traffic stops also made a reappearance. Even during the 2020 slowdown, reports of race-based harassment continued.

 

2021 Citizen Complaints

 

Decades ago, Raap served as a police officer for the city of Milwaukee, where he was hired in 1990 and left the department at the rank of captain. While serving in the Milwaukee Police Department, Raap accumulated a lengthy disciplinary record. According to Milwaukee PD records obtained through open records requests, 22 internal investigations involving Raap were initiated  from August 1995-December 2003. The accusations included battery of citizens, refusing to give his name and badge number, improper searches and seizures, entering the homes of residents without just cause, and issues with the filing of reports. Some of the complaints involved incidents where several officers responded, including Raap. In these complaints, Raap defended the actions of fellow officers.

Just one of those complaints, related to the filing of reports, was sustained by internal affairs in 1996. The last 2003 complaint involving misconduct in public office is listed as “warrant refused.” In such cases, a criminal allegation is presented to the district attorney’s office but no charges are issued. These decisions were made under former Milwaukee County District Attorney E. Michael McCann, who served as district attorney from 1969 to 2007 .

 

Extracted pages from Binder2

 

A complaint against Raap in the year 2000 related to battery accusations was also listed as “warrant refused”. Most of Raap’s complaints during his time in Milwaukee were listed as unfounded or baseless. Many of those decades-old complaints echo reports of misconduct by Whitewater officers under Raap’s leadership today. Raap’s future as head of WPD remains in limbo, and he continues to be on paid administrative leave. WPD did not provide details on the timeline for the investigation.

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Isiah Holmes
Isiah Holmes

Isiah Holmes is a journalist and videographer, and a lifelong resident of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Holmes' video work dates back to his high school days at Wauwatosa East High, when he made a documentary about the local police department. Since then, 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. He was also featured in the 2018 documentary The Chase Key, and was the recipient of the Sierra Club Great Waters Group 2021 Environmental Hero of the Year award. The Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council also awarded Holmes its 2021-2022 Media Openness Award for using the open records laws for investigative journalism. Holmes was also a finalist in the 2021 Milwaukee Press Club Excellence in Journalism Awards alongside the rest of the Wisconsin Examiner's staff. The Silver, or second place, award for Best Online Coverage of News was awarded to Holmes and his colleague Henry Redman for an investigative series into how police responded to the civil unrest and protests in Kenosha during 2020. Holmes was also awarded the Press Club's Silver (second-place) award for Public Service Journalism for articles focusing on police surveillance in Wisconsin.

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