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Leo Hardy, a 40 year old Milwaukee man, was recently awarded $506,000 by a jury who determined that “Milwaukee police officers violated [his] civil rights by strip-searching him in public without a legal reason and wrongfully arresting him.”  Hardy’s verdict is the first of over 60 civil lawsuits currently pending against the City of Milwaukee as a result of the MPD strip search scandal. If this award is any indication, the MPD’s criminal tactics will cost Milwaukee taxpayers a lot of money.

How much?

Consider what happened in Chicago:

For more than two decades, the City of Chicago has fought 18 civil rights suits against a group of police officers accused of torture.

That legal strategy cost Milwaukee’s neighbors to the south more than $100 million.

In order to pay that $100 million, Chicago’s mayor Rahm Emmanuel had to take on debt in the form of bonds.  However, Chicago was only facing 18 suits. Milwaukee is facing over 3 times that number.

Wasting Taxpayer Money

It’s interesting to note that the organization responsible for costing Milwaukee so much money already accounts for 40% of the city’s budget:

The Milwaukee Police Department’s 2015 budget request is for $254 million or nearly 40% of the city of Milwaukee’s entire operating budget.

But their misconduct potentially exposes the city to tens of millions in additional costs in the form of judgments and settlements. And that doesn’t take into account the money that will be needed to try the cases in the first place, funds which are already being allocated:

… the budgeted amount in a special fund to pay for outside lawyers and expert witnesses nearly doubled — from $430,000 in 2014 to $850,000 for 2015… Those numbers signal that the city plans to take more strip search cases to trial in the coming year, which could be a costly proposition, win or lose.

Adding to the dilemma, going to trial is especially dangerous for the city because Milwaukee doesn’t carry liability insurance to cover police misconduct:

…unlike in Chicago, where supplemental insurance kicks in after the city pays $15 million on a claim, Milwaukee does not carry liability insurance that covers police misconduct… As a result, payouts in such cases — no matter how high — come out of city coffers.

That means that the taxpayers will face unlimited liability as a result of Milwaukee police misconduct.

In light of that, fighting these cases seems like a questionable strategy. First off, there’s no question that the MPD is guilty of the crimes charged. Numerous officers accused of executing the illegal searches have already been convicted and sentenced in criminal court. Next, the forecast doesn’t look good. The very first case to go to trial found the city guilty. And, it doesn’t look like the other cases will be much different.

The US District Court summarized:

  • … there is evidence that substantial numbers of strip search complaints were levied against officers in District 5
  • … those complaints were routinely found to be without merit
  • … later, there were criminal prosecutions related to such incidents
  • … On that basis alone, the Court may draw the reasonable inference that the City had a de facto policy of ignoring claims of misconduct and/or failing to train, supervise, and discipline its officers, which would support Monell liability.

You would think that instead of fighting the charges, the city would do its best to settle them. Quite the opposite. They are refusing to negotiate at all:

In the Hardy case, the city and police “rejected all of the plaintiff’s extremely modest settlement demands, and never put a single dime on the table,” Hardy’s attorneys wrote in their request for fees. “Had the defendants been willing to entertain the plaintiff’s demands, the case would have been resolved at a fraction of the amount the jury awarded, and much of the attorney billing at issue would not have been incurred. Instead, defendants simply refused to negotiate, and offered nothing.”

The result of that arrogance? Half a million dollars of taxpayer money awarded to Leo Hardy. Even Hardy’s lawyer was surprised, stating:

“We hope that the city will stop wasting taxpayers’ money by litigating these cases when they obviously know what the officers did was wrong… We are prepared to take each of these cases to trial, and we expect to have the same result from every jury that we have.”

But, the city shows no signs of stopping, which means that it might ultimately be up to the taxpayers to stop them come election time.

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