More than a year after the George Floyd-inspired protests came to Milwaukee, questions linger over what protesters saw and experienced in the earliest days of the marches, and as the demonstrations and curfews continued into the fall. County Supv. Ryan Clancy, was arrested during the City of Milwaukee’s curfew order on May 31, the first day of the protests. Now Clancy is suing both the city and county for the actions of officers during that first night.
“On the night of May 31 I was working as a volunteer legal observer and in my capacity as an elected official individual,” Clancy explained during a press conference on Friday in front of Milwaukee’s City Hall. “At 9 p.m., I put on my Milwaukee county supervisor pin to make clear that I was watching and documenting interactions between the police and others.” As an elected official, Clancy should have been exempt from arrest under the emergency declaration order which went into effect at 10 p.m. But once the curfew began Clancy was placed under arrest.
Clancy recalled that ride-share services like Uber and Lyft weren’t allowed to operate during the curfew, leaving many protesters essentially stranded. “As I was hoping to persuade a ride-sharing service to give me a ride,” said Clancy, “a massive police response descended on Edgewood and Oakland. Shorewood police were already there, but suddenly there were state police military vehicles, scores of Milwaukee County sheriff’s deputies, and Milwaukee police in full riot gear. They lined up and forced us from Shorewood, where there was no curfew, into Milwaukee where there was.”
Phone in hand, Clancy began to record officers arresting people. Some of the arrests were particularly rough. While filming a street medic’s arrest Clancy said he was “tackled without warning by an officer, who immediately turned off and confiscated my phone.” Over the next five hours, he said, “I would clearly identify myself as an elected official and therefore not subject to the curfew in the same way that the police officers are exempt.”
While he was detained, Clancy noted that a Milwaukee police officer made numerous attempts to access his phone. His lawsuit, filed by attorneys Drew DeVinney of Martin Law Office and Edgar Lin of Ahmad & Associates, states that the officer “removed Supervisor Clancy’s cellular phone from his pocket and placed it in front of Supervisor Clancy’s face to unlock the device.”
Believing this was an attempt to unlock the phone via facial recognition, Clancy told Wisconsin Examiner that he refused. His complaint states that “the unidentified law enforcement officer then invaded Supervisor Clancy’s privacy by looking through the content of Supervisor Clancy’s personal cell phone.” Due to his detention and officers not wearing masks, Clancy quarantined himself from his family for two weeks after being released. The supervisor was also visited by Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) agents regarding his experiences during the protests, though Clancy didn’t have much to say.
Although this officer was wearing a body camera, obtaining the footage has been a challenge for Clancy and his lawyers. Over a year later, neither the Milwaukee Police Department nor the Milwaukee County Sheriff have provided video taken by officers of Clancy’s arrest and detention. DeVinney and Lin are appealing to the public to share any video of Clancy’s arrest, or others during the Milwaukee curfew. Ultimately, the lawsuit aims to take a stand against the deployment and utilization of curfews as witnessed during the 2020 protests.
Curfews, says Clancy, are supposed to be declared by the mayor with input from the common council, not at the discretion of the police, and not without input from the rest of the common council if the council is able to meet and discuss a declaration.
“It looks to me that it was right from the police to the mayor’s ear and then into policy, and that is not how it’s supposed to go,” he says. Similar issues have been raised around other curfews declared during 2020, including in Wauwatosa.
“The common thread here is the dangerous combination of a baseless curfew and police who enforce those curfews brutally, unfairly and with impunity,” said Clancy. “Our legal action seeks to end that pattern and the stifling of our First Amendment rights through unilateral executive action. I look forward to the positive changes that our lawsuit seeks to bring for the residents of Milwaukee.”