Protesters march toward Wauwatosa in 2020. (Photo | Isiah Holmes)
A motion was filed in federal court Friday to restore claims that were dismissed in a federal lawsuit filed over the city of Wauwatosa’s handling of protests in 2020. Claims raised by 17 of the lawsuit’s plaintiffs argue that Wauwatosa police Lt. Joseph Roy violated the Drivers License Protection Act (DPPA) by sharing personal information gathered from Department of Transportation records. On Monday, March 13, Judge Nancy Joseph issued a summary judgment in the lawsuit, tossing out numerous claims while allowing others to remain.
The motion Friday states that Joseph’s summary judgment ruling “appears to have inadvertently dismissed the DPPA claims” for 17 plaintiffs.
The dismissed claim in the lawsuit Knowlton v. City of Wauwatosa alleged that Roy disclosed personal information that protected under the DPPA when the city released an open records Dropbox link on Jan. 7, 2021. The link was sent to numerous media outlets, lawyers, and others, including the Wisconsin Examiner. It contained hours of video, hundreds of pages of police reports and other records that documented police responses to some police brutality protests in 2020.
A footnote on page 28 of the summary judgment ruling states that “plaintiffs do not address” whether their “personal information under the DPPA was disclosed by Roy.” Two pages earlier, however, Joseph explains that while Roy may not have been certain whether personal information in the Dropbox had come from DOT records, he knew that officers regularly incorporated such records to discover addresses, names and other personal details.
“Thus, although Roy avers that he had no way of knowing the source of the information found in the reports, because the reports themselves state that this information came from DOT records, a reasonable jury could find that Roy violated the DPPA,” the ruling states.
The new motion argues that this apparent contradiction should be corrected by restoring the claims. If Joseph doesn’t change the decision, 58 plaintiffs would remain in the lawsuit.
Records in the Dropbox were unredacted. They included interviews with people who had been promised anonymity as confidential informants. In October 2022, both the Dropbox link and a list of protesters, elected officials, lawyers and journalists created and shared by the police department were restricted by a federal court order. The Dropbox link had been available for nearly two years.
The plaintiffs who had claims were all people who had been placed on the protester list, or “target list.” They included Taleavia Cole, the sister of 17-year-old Alvin Cole, who was killed by former officer Joseph Mensah in 2020; Milwaukee activist Vaun Mayes; and several people who had protested with The People’s Revolution (TPR) protest group in 2020 and 2021.
The motion concludes by stating that plaintiffs “respectfully ask the Court to amend for correction, its summary judgment order,” restoring the dismissed claims against Roy.
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