Family of Breon Green demand video release from Milwaukee jail

The family of a man who died in the Milwaukee County jail demand transparency from Sheriff’s Office

By: - August 9, 2022 6:30 am
Protesters gather at the Milwaukee County Courthouse to call for transparency in the death of Breon Green. (Photo | Isiah Holmes)

Protesters gather at the Milwaukee County Courthouse to call for transparency in the death of Breon Green. (Photo | Isiah Holmes)

“This is everybody’s son,” Monique Brewer, aunt of 21-year-old Breon Green, said during a protest Saturday. “This is everybody’s nephew, this is everybody’s friend, this is everybody’s brother, this is everybody’s child. It could be anybody. All we’re asking for is transparency.” In June, Green was taken to jail by the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) shortly before 6 p.m., and by 7:21 p.m. Green was found dead. Although Green’s death remains under investigation, it has been framed as an apparent suicide.

A cacophony of questions have haunted Green’s family since MCSO deputies took him into custody. Family members are demanding the release of video footage showing what happened to Green after his arrest. Brewer said the footage hasn’t been provided to the family or their lawyers even in private. They also demand that moving forward, footage in these cases be released in 24-48 hours. “It’s up to you all to get out there and change this,” said Brewer. “Change this so that it’s not your kid, so it’s not your neighbor, it’s not your family.”

Protesters gather at the Milwaukee County Courthouse to call for transparency in the death of Breon Green. (Photo | Isiah Holmes)
Protesters gather at the Milwaukee County Courthouse to call for transparency in the death of Breon Green. (Photo | Isiah Holmes)

Green’s family was supported Saturday by community groups including the Milwaukee Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression and Black Leaders Organizing Communities (BLOC). Milwaukee County Supervisor Ryan Clancy also showed up.

“I’m frustrated that families, specifically Breon’s family, has to be out here and fight. Instead of grieving and healing and mourning their loved one, they have to fight for basic accountability,” said Angela Lang, executive director of BLOC in Milwaukee. “That ain’t right,” she continued, a sentiment which the crowd echoed as Lang spoke. “I’m tired of being at things like this, and I know y’all are, too.”

In June, TMJ4 reported, Green was arrested at Bradford Beach on misdemeanor charges of disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and carrying a concealed handgun. He was also charged with three counts of felony bail jumping. Green’s family has been able to glimpse some aspects of what happened through social media postings and pictures they found after the shooting. Brewer told Wisconsin Examiner the family was initially told Green was resisting arrest. However, they were later told that he had a handgun and surrendered to deputies. “He did have a learning disability,” said Brewer, who believes  his disability would have prevented him from communicating with the police effectively. “They said there’s no body cam, no vehicle cam,” she added. “They just showed us the pole cams leading to the jail.” Brewer also noted that the amount of time it took Green to arrive at the jail seemed longer than what’s needed to travel from Bradford beach.

Angela Lang, executive director of BLOC in Milwaukee. (Photo | Isiah Holmes)
Angela Lang, executive director of BLOC in Milwaukee. (Photo | Isiah Holmes)

The Waukesha County Sheriff’s Department is investigating the death. Wisconsin state law prevents law enforcement agencies from investigating their own critical incidents, like in-custody deaths. Around Milwaukee, these investigations are typically handled through the Milwaukee Area Investigative Team, using personnel from every nearby department. Green’s mother, Laquita Dunlap, said she was told that Green hung himself with a metal pay phone cord in the booking area.

Green’s death is part of  a troubling pattern at the Milwaukee County jail of in-custody deaths. Three correctional officers were recently fired or resigned following investigations into two other deaths. In January 2020 Nicholas Stadtmueller, 34, died in the jail, followed by 38-year-old Joseph Behling in November 2020. The Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office decided that there was no criminal liability related to those two deaths, which were both attributed to suicide.

Milwaukee County Supervisor Ryan Clancy. (Photo | Isiah Holmes)
Milwaukee County Supervisor Ryan Clancy. (Photo | Isiah Holmes)

In 2016 under former Sheriff David Clarke Jr., a 38-year-old man was found dead in solitary confinement after spending several days at the jail. Terrill Thomas suffered profound dehydration after jail staff shut off the water to his cell for seven days. Several correctional officers were initially charged though just one correctional officer, a lieutenant, and a jail commander were convicted. Milwaukee County and Armor Correctional Health Services, which contracts with the jail, paid Thomas’ family a settlement of $6.75 million. The same year Thomas died, Milwaukee County was sued for $8.5 million in damages by a woman whose newborn baby died in the jail and who claimed that corrections officers laughed at her and refused to help her when she went into labor.

“We keep seeing this over and over again,” said Omar Flores, chair of the MAARPR. Flores said during the rally in front of the courthouse that the series of gruesome stories from the jail compelled the alliance to demand that footage be released within 24-48 hours of an incident.

Green’s mother, Laquita Dunlap (left) marches with activists and members of her family. (Photo | Isiah Holmes)
Green’s mother, Laquita Dunlap (left) marches with activists and members of her family. (Photo | Isiah Holmes)

“It takes months, sometimes even years.” Flores said of families’ efforts to find out what happened to loved ones who died in custody. He pointed to  the case of Joel Acevedo, whose death in early 2020 resulted in charges against an off-duty Milwaukee police officer, Michael Mattioli. “This happened two years ago to their family, and they still don’t have that video,” said Flores. “How can we have accountability when there’s no transparency, when we can’t even see what’s happening?”

He stressed that sheriffs have been reluctant to allow county supervisors like Clancy to view the conditions of the jail. “If the county board, their bosses, can’t go and see what’s happening in these jails, then we need to [expletive] shut it down,” he added.

A vigil held by the family of Breon Green. (Photo | Isiah Holmes)
A vigil held by the family of Breon Green. (Photo | Isiah Holmes)

Green’s mother says it’s wrong that family members “have to constantly ask and beg for something that’s just so easy,” when they seek information on deaths in custody.

Dunlap added, “Just push play. We want to know what happened. We want to see the truth.” After speaking at the courthouse, protesters and Green’s family traveled to an area near where Green was arrested. They held a vigil and said prayers before releasing balloons. Brewer posed a challenge to the sheriffs of both Waukesha and Milwaukee counties: “If there’s nothing to hide, then you show us,” she said. “Period.”

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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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