MILWAUKEE (AP) — The Milwaukee police chief has apologized to Sterling Brown and says officers have been disciplined for acting "inappropriately" after the Bucks player was zapped with a stun gun during his arrest for a parking violation in January.
Milwaukee Police Chief Alfonso Morales speaks to the media Wednesday, May 23, 2018, in Milwaukee regarding the Sterling Brown body camera footage showing officers using a stun gun on the Milwaukee Bucks rookie. Morales apologized to Brown for officers' actions during a January arrest that included use of a stun gun, and said some officers had been disciplined. (Rick Wood//Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel via AP)
Brown, who is African-American, said in a statement Wednesday that the incident was "an attempt at police intimidation" and that it "shouldn't happen to anybody." Community groups in Milwaukee have criticized police for how they handled Brown.
Police Chief Alfonso Morales' apology at a news conference Wednesday came as police released body camera footage that showed how a simple interaction over an illegally parked car quickly escalated. The video, which was released because an internal investigation had concluded, represents another setback for a department that for years has tried to rebuild its image and relationship with Milwaukee's black residents after several high-profile cases of police misconduct.
Police did not identify the races of the officers, but most of the officers in the video appeared to be white.
It began around 2 a.m. on Jan. 26 in a Walgreens parking lot. As Brown walks out of the store, an officer standing by Brown's car asks him for his driver's license. When Brown gets close to his car's passenger door, the officer touches Brown and he tells the officer not to touch him.
"Back up! Back up!" the officer yells. "For what? I ain't did nothing," Brown responds. Brown eventually shows the officer his driver's license.
The conversation between the officer and Brown is testy as they wait for additional squad cars to show up. Brown says he has no problem with the officer's questions and the officer responds that he touched him "because you got up in my face."
"I got up on your face? Really?" Brown responds in disbelief.
It takes a turn for the worse when Brown, surrounded by four officers near his car, is asked to take his hands out of his pockets. Almost immediately a scuffle ensues, with the officers swarming over Brown and one yelling "Taser! Taser! Taser!"
Brown is heard groaning in pain on the ground, although he's barely visible from the camera's viewpoint.
Brown was not charged with anything.
"Our department conducted an investigation into the incident, which revealed members acted inappropriately and those members were recently disciplined," Morales said at the brief news conference.
"I am sorry this incident escalated to this level," he added.
He left without taking questions. He did not identify the officers or say how they were disciplined.
Brown, in his statement released Wednesday, said the experience "was wrong and shouldn't happen to anybody."
"What should have been a simple parking ticket turned into an attempt at police intimidation, followed by the unlawful use of physical force, including being handcuffed and tased, and then unlawfully booked," he said. "This experience with the Milwaukee Police Department has forced me to stand up and tell my story so that I can help prevent these injustices from happening in the future."
The Milwaukee Bucks signed the 6-foot-6 guard from Southern Methodist University in Texas last summer in a deal with the Philadelphia 76ers.
Later in the video, after officers used the stun gun, Brown can be heard having a conversation with someone away from the view of the camera.
"They tased me for no reason," an agitated Brown says.
"I asked you to step back and you didn't do it," the officer who had the initial interaction with Brown responds. Later, that same officer mocks Brown while talking to another officer about what happened, saying he thought Brown "was being an ass" and "trying to hide something."
"And now he's like, 'I'm a Bucks player, blah, blah, blah.' So what," the officer says.
City officials' concern over the content of the video was apparent earlier this week when Mayor Tom Barrett said he found it concerning.
Fred Royal, the president of the NAACP in Milwaukee, said Wednesday that he "didn't see anything that would warrant" a stun gun being used on Brown.
"I find it disturbing that an officer would incite an argument over a parking citation," Royal said.
A day before releasing the body-camera footage, Morales posted a video on YouTube to reiterate his commitment to rebuilding the public's trust in the department.
"If there's ever an incident where one of our members makes a mistake, unnecessarily escalating a situation, I'm going to be honest and transparent about it," he said. "In those incidents, where we have made mistakes and are wrong, I'm sorry."
Morales was appointed chief in February, following the retirement of Edward Flynn, who held the position for 10 years.
Last year, Milwaukee paid $2.3 million to settle a lawsuit over the death of Dontre Hamilton, a mentally ill black man fatally shot by a police officer after the officer roused him from a park bench downtown. The officer said he shot Hamilton 14 times in self-defense because they got into a struggle when the officer frisked him for weapons.
In 2016, the city paid $5 million to settle a lawsuit by 74 black residents who said police illegally strip-searched them between 2008 and 2012. The city is considering settling a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union in Wisconsin, which is representing eight residents who say police targeted them for stops because they were African-American or Latino and because of the high-crime areas where they lived.
In early May, police and prosecutors began investigating four officers who were involved in the violent arrest of a black man in a majority African-American neighborhood. Video from a bystander showed a group of officers kicking and punching the man on the ground while he was restrained. Police presented their body-camera footage of the encounter, which showed the man aggressively charging at officers and trying to punch them.
Bucks guard Sterling Brown's statement on Milwaukee arrest
FILE - In this April 1, 2018, file photo, Milwaukee Bucks guard Sterling Brown is seen during an NBA basketball game in Denver. Milwaukee police plan to release body camera footage, Wednesday, May 23, 2018 from the officers who used a stun gun on Brown during an arrest. The release comes as city officials who've viewed the videos have expressed concern about how officers conducted themselves. Even leaders of the police department have hinted the video may make them look bad. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)
Text of a statement from Milwaukee Bucks guard Sterling Brown about his January arrest by Milwaukee police during an interaction over a parking violation:
My experience in January with the Milwaukee Police Department was wrong and shouldn't happen to anybody. What should have been a simple parking ticket turned into an attempt at police intimidation, followed by the unlawful use of physical force, including being handcuffed and tased, and then unlawfully booked. This experience with the Milwaukee Police Department has forced me to stand up and tell my story so that I can help prevent these injustices from happening in the future.
Situations like mine and worse happen every day in the black community. Being a voice and a face for people who won't be heard and don't have the same platform as I have is a responsibility I take seriously. I am speaking for Dontre Hamilton of Milwaukee, Laquan McDonald of Chicago, Stephon Clark of Sacramento, Eric Garner of New York, and the list goes on. These people aren't able to speak anymore because of unjust actions by those who are supposed to "serve and protect" the people.
The common denominator in all of these situations has been racism towards the minority community, the abuse of power, and the lack of accountability for officers involved. The lack of repercussions for the police officers involved in so many of these cases is offensive. This is a slap in the face to the victims' families and communities.
Black men shouldn't have to have their guard up and instantly be on the defensive when seeing a police officer, but it's our reality and a real problem. There must be mutual respect and both sides have to figure out how to accomplish this.
There are no easy solutions to this problem, but there are strides that can be made to create change. I will do my part in helping to prevent similar incidents from happening to the minority community in the future.
This is bigger than me. My family, friends, legal team, Priority Sports, Milwaukee Bucks, the black community and the communities of all who stand against injustice plan to continue the fight. Peaceful support to ensure no further damage to our community is the only way to respond. I know many of you will share my anger and frustration, but for our community to progress and grow, we need to build on what we already have and not destroy it. I will take legal action against the Milwaukee Police Department to continue forcing change in our community.