Milwaukee’s chief of police was demoted to captain Thursday due to the way he handled multiple situations, including the protests that happened in the wake of George Floyd’s death.
NBC News reports that Milwaukee Police Chief Alfonso Morales was demoted to captain following a unanimous vote by the city’s Fire and Police Commission. Morales joined the department in 1993 and was promoted to chief in 2018. According to Morales’ attorney, Franklyn Gimble, his relationship with the commission was rocky from the start after he refused the chairman’s request to fire one of the officers involved in the 2018 arrest of Milwaukee Bucks player Sterling Brown.
“His conduct is unbecoming, filled with ethical lapses and flawed decisions, making it inconsistent with someone who has the privilege of leading the Milwaukee Police Department,” Commissioner Raymond Robakowski said.
Milwaukee’s Democratic Mayor Tom Barrett felt that the commission acted unjustly in demoting Morales. “The discussion surrounding this decision tonight was completely lacking in transparency. The action taken by the commission tonight was not good government,” Barrett said.
From NBC News:
Gimbel said problems began when officers arrested Brown for parking illegally in January 2018. Officers swarmed the Bucks guard and used a stun gun on him when he didn’t remove his hands from his pockets. The commission’s chairman, Steven DeVougas, who is Black, told Morales to fire one of the officers involved but Morales refused, the attorney said.
“From there it got stressful,” Gimbel said. “DeVougas viewed him as not being a team player.”
In February, the Milwaukee Police Association, which represents rank-and-file officers, filed an ethics complaint against DeVougas alleging he accompanied a real estate developer during an interview with police who suspected the developer of sexual assault. DeVougas practices real estate law for the developer’s business. The police association argued DeVougas’ presence during the interview was a misuse of his position as commission chairman. A city ethics board is investigating.
The protests surrounding police brutality in the wake of George Floyd’s death only further strained the relationship between Morales and the commission. In May and June, Milwaukee police used tear gas and pepper spray to disperse protesters, a move that was condemned by both the commission and the mayor. The commission banned the use of tear gas and pepper spray in June, which resulted in police departments around the state pulling out from assisting with the upcoming Democratic National Convention.
On July 20, the commission ordered Morales to deliver records related to the tear gassing of protesters, Brown’s arrest and the arrest of a local Black activist for suspicion of burglary back in June. They also ordered the former police chief to develop more transparent discipline protocols for officers and create a mandate requiring officers wear face masks during the pandemic. Morales was told he would be disciplined or fired should he not respond to the requests within a week—a demand Gimbel believed was unfair as Morales’ predecessor, Ed Flynn, was given 50 days to respond to a similar request.
On Wednesday, the police department responded to the orders, calling them vague and potentially illegal. They pointed out the orders were not issued during an open meeting and would demand information from ongoing investigations be disclosed. The mayor sent a letter to the commission asking for an “orderly review” of the orders as well as the removal of DeVougas as chairman since he is currently under investigation.
Morales’ demotion comes as police chiefs across the country have either quit or been fired due to their response to the ongoing protests against police brutality. Former Atlanta police chief Erika Shields resigned a day after Rayshard Brooks was killed by an Atlanta police officer and the Louisville chief of police was fired after it was found that officers turned their body cameras off the night David McAtee was shot and killed at a protest in June.