Marchers with The Peoples Revolution dance and prepare to march from Wauwatosa City Hall. (Photo | Isiah Holmes)
Nearly two dozen tickets and cases related to Wauwatosa’s protests during 2020 have been dismissed to date. While not stemming from the city’s October 2020 curfew, the tickets were issued to protesters at other points throughout the year. Many of the tickets, costing hundreds or thousands of dollars, were issued for disorderly conduct, obstructing, resisting an officer, disobeying orders and violating the requirement that protesters register for a special event permit.
The dismissals are part of still ongoing legal actions related to the events of 2020. As Wauwatosa was packed with police brutality protests, hefty citations were increasingly used to discourage demonstrations. By September 2020, many protesters had been mailed tickets ranging from $600-$1300. Some protesters were mailed the tickets, with police records indicating marchers were identified through video. Others were paid house visits by Wauwatosa officers, even some who lived far outside the suburb. Around the same time officers also began laying spike strips in the roads, photographing protesters, journalists and legal observers and calling individuals out by name.
Unbeknownst to many at the time, the Wauwatosa Police Department (WPD) had developed a lengthy list of people who were observed at protests. At least one of the list’s uses was to help identify people who would be sent tickets. WPD began compiling the list around June 2020. Following a confrontation between protesters and former officer Joseph Mensah at his girlfriend’s home in August, the department began further escalating its efforts to discourage protest activity.
Civil rights attorney Kimberley Motley, who has represented protesters in these cases, feels the tickets were part of a larger strategy. “These tickets, in my opinion, were used as a means to harass and deter people from protesting,” Motley told Wisconsin Examiner. “The tickets were ridiculous and largely, I believe, lacked substantial merit for them to be issued in the first place. Which is why we were happily appealing them for jury trials in a different court that was outside of the city of Wauwatosa.”
Although the tickets were upheld by a Wauwatosa municipal judge, they were appealed in Milwaukee courts. “Pretty much every single ticket that was properly appealed has been dismissed when it was going in front of a different judge, outside of Wauwatosa,” explained Motley. Motley herself was placed on WPD’s list. She feels the dismissals underscore the nature of the tactics used during those tense days and nights. Those whose tickets have been dismissed were all also on the protester list.
“The vast majority of these tickets people received by mail,” said Motley. “We have people that received tickets that were within 10 minutes of each other, simply for protesting, by two different Wauwatosa officers. And we’re talking tickets that are thousands and thousands of dollars.” Several protesters, particularly key organizers, received multiple tickets. The citations were piled on top of broken car windows, tires popped by spike strips, seized bicycles, broken cameras, and other expenses as the marches continued.
Protests in the Milwaukee and Wauwatosa areas endured for over 400 days after the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. None of the tickets or cases that have been dismissed so far occurred during the October 2020 curfew. Lawsuits over the conduct of officers during the curfew remain ongoing, and all tickets issued during those nights are currently stayed. An amended complaint filed in the lawsuit is still awaiting the court’s decision.
GET THE MORNING HEADLINES DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX
Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.