Topping years of scandal over illegal and often painful rectal “searches” by Milwaukee police officers who eventually were charged with criminal conduct, this morning victims of the misconduct filed suit in federal court against the City, and eight current and former officers.
At noon today, two of the four plaintiffs in the new suit – Jerrold Ezell and Anthony Pettis – joined a news conference with their attorneys, Robin Shellow of The Shellow Group of Milwaukee, and Jon Loevy and Heather Lewis Donnell of Loevy & Loevy Attorneys at Law.
“Dozens and dozens” of people had complained of illegal cavity searches by Milwaukee police officers over the years, according to Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm, but until today, none have spoken publicly about their trauma.
All of the known victims are African American. All of the known alleged police perpetrators are white.
According to today’s suit:
• In February 2011 Ezell was sitting in his car parked in front of his grandmother’s house when Sergeant Jason Mucha and Officers Michael Vagnini and Jacob Knight approached the car with their weapons drawn. Even though he had no probable cause, during the course of Ezell’s arrest Vagnini grabbed Mr. Ezell’s scrotum and put his hand through Mr. Ezell’s buttocks cheeks with a blading motion, all outside his pants.
Unsatisfied with his search of Mr. Ezell, Officer Vagnini then began to use his fingers to claw and attempt to penetrate Mr. Ezell’s anus. Officer Vagnini threatened Mr. Ezell stating: “If you try to run, I’ll blow your fucking head off,” or words to that effect. Sergeant Mucha and Officer Knight stood by and watched Officer Vagnini’s searches of Mr. Ezell, but did nothing to intervene or stop him.
• In July 2011 Vagnini performed a similar illegal cavity “search,” this time against Anthony Pettis, in an interrogation room of Milwaukee’s 7th District Police Station. Vagnini, who on April 22 pled no contest to four felony and four misdemeanor crimes, bragged to Officers Bartol and Seitz that “This is how you search these guys.” Bartol and Seitz failed to stop the misconduct.
• In November 2011, Officers Bartol and Seitz entered a private residence without a warrant or probable cause, followed by dozens of other officers, including Vagnini and Knight. Officer Vagnini ordered Mr. Pettis and Mr. Ezell to stand up and then shoved his bare two fingers into both Mr. Ezell’s and Mr. Pettis’ rectums one after another without pausing to wash his hands or put on gloves. No drugs were found on either man, and yet the officers arrested them.
As Attorney Robin Shellow underscored during today’s news conference, the police officers alleged attacks against Mr. Ezell, Mr. Pettis and so many others were not just illegal searches, as bad as those are. They were sexual assaults.
We salute the incredible courage of Mr. Ezell and Mr. Pettis in publicly speaking out about these attacks.
If you were victim of an illegal search by Milwaukee police officers – whether or not you wish to be publicly identified – we encourage you to share your story with the attorneys at Loevy & Loevy Attorneys at Law so that we can discuss with you how you might get justice. Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to get in touch with one of our attorneys.