ACLU calls Tosa PD discussion of high records fees ‘unlawful’

By: - November 25, 2020 4:56 pm
The email, with a personal phone number redacted, sent from John Milotzky in 2016. The email was sent two days after Officer Mensah was cleared of the Jay Anderson shooting. (Photo by Isiah Holmes)

The email, with a personal phone number redacted, sent from John Milotzky in 2016. The email was sent two days after Officer Mensah was cleared of the Jay Anderson shooting. (Photo by Isiah Holmes)

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Wisconsin has issued a series of statements condemning an internal email sent by personnel at the Wauwatosa Police Department (WPD) in 2016. Sent from Detective John Milotzky, who also serves as president of the Wauwatosa Peace Officers Association (WPOA), the email discusses the possibility of charging high fees as a way of discouraging  open records requests.

In a statement, the ACLU specifically cited the Wisconsin Examiner’s reporting of the email. “Charging the public outrageously high costs to request records about the police shooting of Jay Anderson Jr. is not only unlawful, but shows the gross disregard and lack of respect that the Wauwatosa Police Department continues to have for the community it is tasked with protecting and serving,” said Molly Collins, advocacy director for the ACLU of Wisconsin.

Collins also notes that, “it appears that the Wauwatosa Police Department sought legal advice from a police union lawyer on a municipal law issue, like open records, when the city has a city attorney whose job is to advise departments on municipal law matters.” Describing the tactics by WPD as “dishonest” and “a red flag” showing poor leadership Collins declared the department, “will never earn the trust of people if its officers are willing to deliberately suppress possible evidence of police violence.”

In the email, Milotzky mentions discussing the release of Officer Joseph Mensah’s personnel file. The document was requested during the investigation into the Anderson shooting, the second fatal incident involving Mensah. Milotzky, who was emailing a WPD captain, noted that while refusing to release the file would be pointless, charging high fees for such requests is a practice WPD should look into in the future.

Now, in 2020, the department is flooded with open records requests related to its past activities and more recent operations against Black Lives Matter protesters. The ACLU of Wisconsin, the lawyers of Motley Legal, and the Wisconsin Examiner all have pending open records requests with the department. Motley Legal continues to pursue the rest of its $5,400 records request with WPD.

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.

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.