State Supreme Court upholds firing of police officer over racist memes following NBA arrest

Former Milwaukee officer Erik Andrade's posts mocked 2018 arrest of former Bucks player Sterling Brown

A screenshot of bodycam footage from the Sterling Brown's incident
This police body-camera footage released by Milwaukee Police Department from Jan. 26, 2018, shows NBA Bucks guard Sterling Brown talking to arresting police officers after being shot by a stun gun in a Walgreens parking lot in Milwaukee. The Milwaukee city attorney is recommending a revised offer to settle a lawsuit brought by Milwaukee Bucks’ guard Sterling Brown. City Attorney Tearman Spencer is recommending a $750,000 payment and an admission that Brown’s constitutional rights were violated during the arrest. Milwaukee Police Department via AP

The Wisconsin Supreme Court has upheld the firing of a former Milwaukee police officer over racist social media posts following the 2018 arrest of former Milwaukee Bucks player Sterling Brown. 

Erik Andrade was fired from the Milwaukee Police Department in September 2018 after a Facebook post from him mocking Brown’s arrest came to light.  

Brown was arrested outside of a Walgreen’s after an MPD officer questioned why he was parked across two handicapped spots in the otherwise empty parking lot.

Body camera footage released by the department shows officers surrounding Brown and asking him to take his hands out of his pockets before wrestling him to the ground and using a stun gun to subdue him.   

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Andrade wasn’t part of the arrest, but did transport Brown to the police station. No charges were filed against Brown. 

The former Bucks player filed a lawsuit against the department and officers, including Andrade,  involved in his arrest. He argued they used excessive force and deprived him of his civil rights.

The suit highlighted several social media posts by Andrade, including one stating it was, “Nice meeting Sterling Brown of the Milwaukee Bucks at work this morning! LOL#FearTheDeer.”

Other posts from Andrade shared include a racist meme mocking NBA star Kevin Durant’s hair and one where he said he hoped former Cleveland Cavaliers player JR Smith “double parks in Walgreens handicap parkin spots when he’s in Milwaukee!” following a Buck’s loss to the team. 

In 2021, the Milwaukee Common Council approved a $750,000 settlement with Brown.

Andrade filed two lawsuits challenging his firing, one of which argued his due process rights were violated during the proceedings. The circuit court and a state appeals court upheld the termination. 

In its 5-2 decision Tuesday, the Wisconsin Supreme Court said former Milwaukee Police Chief Alfonso Morales and the Milwaukee Board of Fire and Police Commissioners gave Andrade “all the process he was due under the Fourteenth Amendment.” Conservative Justice Brian Hagedorn, who sided with the court’s four liberals, wrote the majority opinion. 

“We conclude the Due Process Clause does not require a more exacting and rigid pre-termination process than what Andrade received,” Hagedorn said. 

Conservative Justice Rebecca Bradley and conservative Chief Justice Annette Ziegler dissented, with Ziegler writing that while she doesn’t “condone” Andrade’s behavior, he was not “informed of the nature” of the department’s internal investigation into his posts and was not given notice of the “real reason” he was fired until after he was let go. 

“It is not necessary to consider the content of the offensive Facebook postings,” Ziegler said. “They are distasteful and unbecoming of police officers. But due process, even when flexible, demands certain ‘essential requirements’ be met, namely, that the accused be provided ‘notice and an opportunity to respond.’”

An attorney representing Andrade was not available for comment. An attorney representing Milwaukee’s Board of Fire and Police Commissioners told WPR she was not authorized to comment on the decision.