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September 22, 2007 - Capital Times (WI)

Column: Rogue Milwaukee Officer Part Of Blue Crime Wave

By Joel McNally

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

First, it was reported that a violent street gang calling itself the Punishers was operating within the Milwaukee Police Department.

Now we learn a Milwaukee police officer accused repeatedly of using excessive force and planting drugs on citizens, instead of being disciplined or terminated, received a promotion.

When we hired Milwaukee police officers to go after crime kingpins, we didn't realize it would turn out to be an inside job.

Milwaukee's blue crime wave should settle once and for all whether police can be trusted to police their own. They can't.

The latest reports involve Sgt. Jason Mucha, who was accused in at least 10 cases over a three-year period of beating suspects, planting drugs on them or both.

We all have an image of internal affairs divisions within police departments based on pro-police TV shows that portray internal investigators as over-zealous weasels out to savage the careers of dedicated officers trying to do their jobs.

Not in Milwaukee. Internal affairs investigations for the department are handled by the Professional Performance Division.

Despite a clear pattern of similar, very serious complaints against Mucha in 10 separate cases, he has received only three minor reprimands -- twice for failing to appear in court as a witness and once for parking illegally.

And a promotion to sergeant, of course, where he's supervised the summer anti-crime initiative to increase saturation policing in high-crime neighborhoods.

Police Chief Nan Hegerty supports Mucha, saying he's been doing a great job.

But others in the criminal justice system find the behavior Mucha is accused of much more troubling. That includes at least four judges, including some very politically conservative judges on the Wisconsin Court of Appeals.

The first judge to take notice of the pattern of accusations against Mucha was Milwaukee Circuit Judge Charles Kahn Jr., who handled four cases of defendants who accused Mucha of brutality or falsifying evidence.

"It's not really normal, at least not in my experience, that (so many) individuals would all say that one or two police officers did the same illegal, dishonest thing to them," Kahn said.

In August 2005, in the trial of a defendant who claimed Mucha beat him and planted cocaine on him, Kahn allowed testimony from others accusing Mucha of similar behavior. As a result, the district attorney reduced a felony drug charge to misdemeanor disorderly conduct.

In March 2006, a unanimous opinion by three judges on the Wisconsin Court of Appeals -- Ted E. Wedemeyer Jr., Ralph Adam Fine and Joan Kessler -- used a separate case involving Mucha to set a new standard in the state allowing testimony to impeach the credibility of police witnesses.

Just as the state uses the criminal record of defendants to impeach their credibility, the court said a trial judge should have allowed five other witnesses to testify claiming brutality or planting of evidence by Mucha to impeach his credibility.

"It is not appropriate for this court, nor was it appropriate for the (lower) trial court, to assume that the defendant was lying and the officer was telling the truth," Wedemeyer wrote in the unanimous decision.

As a result of the Court of Appeals decision, a felony drug conviction for which Walter Missouri spent two years in prison was thrown out. Missouri testified Mucha and another officer beat and pepper-sprayed him and shoved a baggie of cocaine in his mouth.

The promotion of Mucha suggests that the sorts of things that can enhance the careers of police officers -- securing large numbers of drug convictions, for example -- may bear no resemblance to police work that would actually improve the community.

Why would any police officer plant drugs on a suspect? Is there a serious shortage of illegal drugs in the community? Has the so-called war on drugs already swept all the people off our streets who actually possess drugs so police now have to supply their own?

People have long wondered why known drug houses are not closed down by police. Vice squad police say they actually make a lot of arrests out of those drug houses. It's just that the sellers are immediately replaced.

How convenient. On a slow night, there are known drug houses in the community where police can always count on harvesting a new batch of drug arrests.

Attaining high arrest numbers apparently can become an end in itself, earning officers promotions and other valuable prizes. It doesn't matter whether the community is made any safer. Carried to the extreme, it doesn't even matter whether those who are arrested have committed any crimes.

Remember when politicians used to claim putting more police on the streets would reduce crime?

Until we start arresting gang members in uniform instead of promoting them, we could just be fueling our own blue crime wave.

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