The attorney for Milwaukee’s ousted police chief said Monday he’s prepared to file a federal civil rights case if the city doesn’t reach a fair deal with his client after a judge ruled that the chief was improperly removed from his post.
On Friday, Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Christopher Foley reversed the Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission's August decision to demote former Chief Alfonso Morales. But the judge did not give further instructions, and it remains unclear if or how Morales could actually retake leadership of the Police Department.
Morales' attorney, Franklyn Gimbel, met with Assistant City Attorney William Davidson Monday morning to discuss next steps.
"Quite frankly, the sense that I had, is that (the city) does not want him back as chief, but we are not anywhere near the kind of conversation, with effect to the economics of a potential deal to make the meeting worth continuing," Gimbel said.
The city's Fire and Police Commission voted unanimously to demote Morales to the rank of captain, with commissioners leveling several criticisms about Morales, including situations involving Black residents. Morales subsequently retired, sued and requested a judicial review of the decision.
In his ruling Friday, Foley said the entire process was flawed, mentioning the fact that Morales was not allowed to speak during the meeting.
"It was not properly initiated, depriving the petitioner of notice of the specific charges against him; no evidence was presented to support whatever those charges may have been; he was not permitted to challenge any evidence in support of those charges by cross examination or presentation of his own witnesses or evidence," Foley wrote.
Gimbel said Morales feels vindicated by the ruling.
"The way that they demoted him was outrageous from a humankind point of view," Gimbel said. "And as the judge pointed out, outrageous from a legality point of view too."
Gimbel said Morales would return to the position of chief, but he’s not going to "force his way into the chair."
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Morales is a life-long Milwaukee resident. He started with the Milwaukee Police Department in 1993. He became a detective in 1999, working in the Criminal Investigations Bureau until 2009. He was promoted to chief in 2018.
Gimbel said his client will receive what he’s owed from the city.
"We’ve talked about a federal civil rights case, we’ve talked about a breach of contract case in the state courts. At this point, we’re attempting to weigh the options with respect to choices where we go down the road," Gimbel said.
Many In Line For Chief Job
After Morales was demoted, Assistant Chief Michael Brunson was named acting chief. Brunson will retire on Dec. 23.
The Fire and Police Commission has been in the process for months of hiring new permanent police chief but has been deadlocked.
Two finalists, Malik Aziz, a major with the Dallas Police Department, and Hoyt Mahaley, a supervisory special agent with the FBI and Milwaukee native, have each received three votes from the six-member commission. Commissioners are scheduled to meet to take up the issue again next month.
Meanwhile, Jeffrey Norman, a 24-year veteran of the department, former police captain and former assistant district attorney for Milwaukee County, has been named acting chief.
Some members of the Milwaukee Common Council, visibly frustrated by this process, have asked the commission to take a break and allow Norman to serve as chief for several months.
Norman applied for the role of chief but was not selected as a final candidate by the Fire and Police Commission.
"With less than a week to go until Christmas, we could all do with a little peace," said Alder Ashanti Hamilton. "Let the board take a moment to think about how it is that we all got here and what can be done to try and prevent it from ever happening again."
Alder Robert Bauman said there will be time to start a new national search if Norman’s performance over the next six to nine months falls short.
"I’m not sure, among these candidates, who in their right mind would take this job? It would almost be a negative if they are still interested," Bauman said.
Bauman also wants to see the Fire and Police Commission itself disbanded and replaced.
"We’ve entered the twilight zone with this crew. It has been mistake, after mistake, after mistake and it has been an embarrassment to the taxpayers," Bauman said. "And now it appears that the taxpayers are going to be footing a major bill to pay off Morales because of the kangaroo court they conducted in August.”
Members of the Fire and Police Commission did not return repeated requests for comment.
Commission members are appointed by Mayor Tom Barrett. The Milwaukee Common Council has the ability to remove a commissioner with a three-fourths vote if a citizen complaint is filed, Bauman said.