Milwaukee Police Department Sued Over Strip Searches

Jul 7, 2014

Credit Milwaukee Police / Riemann

Attorneys representing several black men filed a federal complaint against the MPD on Monday, claiming internal problems led officers to strip search suspects.

By law, when police pull over a suspect, only a doctor, a physician’s assistant or registered nurse can perform a cavity search on the individual.

At least 62 people have filed complaints against the MPD, alleging officers conducted body searches. Flint Taylor is one of the attorneys who filed suit Monday on behalf of several black men – all accusing white officers. He says the first known case dates back to 2007, but the practice seemed to increase in 2008.

“These were not rogue officers on a lock by themselves. But these officers here in Milwaukee could not and would not have done this and been able to do this if it was not allowed to happen, if it was not encouraged to happen, if in fact it was not ratified by the chiefs of police, by the command staff, and by the supervisors in District 5,” Taylor says. 

Since 2012, the MPD has dismissed four officers for being involved in illegal strip searches. Three of the four were also fined $300 and forced to complete community service work. The fourth officer, Michael Vagnini, received the stiffest penalty, 26 months in prison.

Attorney Robin Shellow claims as many as 12 officers were directly involved in the practice and need to be brought to justice. She says they violated the rights of some people now sitting in prison.

“Vacate the convictions. There’s a lot of ways in which these things can be made right. But there are people no doubt sitting in the penitentiary because their fourth amendment rights were violated, no doubt,” Shellow says.

The Milwaukee Police Department says that as soon as it recognized a pattern of illegal searches, it took action. Police Chief Edward Flynn has encouraged people who may have been illegally searched to come forward.