Milwaukee police chief demoted by commission over use of chemical agents on protesters

MILWAUKEE — The Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission voted unanimously on Thursday to remove Police Chief Alfonso Morales, citing his decision to use tear gas and pepper spray on George Floyd protesters and other choices he had made.

“His conduct is unbecoming, filled with ethical lapses and flawed decisions,” Commissioner Raymond Robakowski said before the vote was taken, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “Mr. Morales has failed the men and women of the Milwaukee Police Department, the people of the city of Milwaukee and he has misled me. And none of this is acceptable.”

Morales was demoted to the rank of captain, which he held before the board installed him as chief in February 2018, The Daily Wire reported.

However, Mayor Tom Barrett did not see it the same way. He slammed the board’s decision, claiming that it was spurred by a “feud” between the police chief and a board member.

“Clearly there is a blood feud between Chief Morales and Chairman [Steven DeVougas],” Barrett told the Journal Sentinel. “And I think it’s all really bad for our city and they both should be embarrassed.”

Thursday was DeVougas’ last day as the board’s chairman, though he remains a board member. The mayor accused the board of rushing the decision and not giving Morales a fair hearing in comments after the vote.

“I am angry with what happened tonight,” Barrett said. “Chief Morales should have been given an opportunity to respond. At the same time, I understand some of the frustration because rather than responding to the directives, he spent two weeks on a [public relations] campaign and clearly that angered the commissioners, as well.”

“The discussion surrounding this decision tonight was completely lacking in transparency. The action taken by the commission tonight was not good government,” Barrett said, according to the Associated Press.

Tensions between Morales and DeVougas began last fall as the commission was weighing whether to appoint Morales to another term. DeVougas reportedly wanted Morales to fire an officer involved in a January 2018 incident in which police used a Taser on Milwaukee Bucks guard Sterling Brown during a confrontation over a parking violation. Brown had ignored police orders to remove his hands from his pockets. Although Morales refused to fire the officer, eight officers were disciplined in the matter.

Months later, union officials with the Milwaukee Police Association filed an ethics complaint accusing DeVougas of accompanying someone suspected of sexual assault to a police interview in August 2019. The suspect was a real estate developer and a client of DeVougas’ real estate law practice.

A report released by an independent investigator last month found that DeVougas likely violated city ethics codes and lied about his relationship with the real estate developer, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. DeVougas is still under official investigation for the incident.

The commission reportedly grew upset after Morales authorized his officers to use pepper spray and tear gas to disperse crowds during a wave of protests.

In July, the commission banned police from using tear gas, which had a ripple effect.

Dozens of police agencies in Wisconsin had planned to assist the Milwaukee Police Department during the upcoming Democratic National Convention. However, the decision of the commission prompted the allied agencies to back out in order to protect their officers from the inevitable conflicts that will take place, Law Officer reported.

Police Chief Rick Oliva from nearby Franklin slammed the Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission following the decision to ban tear gas.

“It is apparent there is a lack of commitment to provide the Milwaukee Police Department with the resources it needs to ensure the safety of peaceful protesters, attendees, citizens and police personnel,” Oliva said. “I cannot send personnel if they are not properly equipped or will not be allowed to engage in appropriate actions which would ensure their safety.”

Oliva wasn’t the only police leader to speak on the issue.

“We have the highest level of respect for Chief Morales, but we strongly disagree with the actions taken by the Fire and Police Commission,” Wisconsin Police Executive Group Chair Bill Lamb said at the time.


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