“I always believed you had to do something wrong to be arrested,” lamented Joy McFarlin, a 75-year-old grandmother who was abducted without cause by Milwaukee police officers after being injured in a car accident on October 13. “I’m too old to be naive, but I really did.”
Jim Stingl of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports that McFarlin’s pickup truck was side-swiped by a driver who ran a red light. Unable to exit the driver’s side, the injured elderly lady was assisted out of the passenger’s side by a concerned young man who had happened on the scene. The helpful stranger stayed by McFarlin’s side until the paramedics showed up. Unfortunately, the medical professionals brought in their train a brace of Milwaukee PD officers — one male, the other female — who immediately began to treat the injured and traumatized septuagenarian as a criminal suspect.
Apparently, some eyewitnesses had seen McFarlin being helped from the driver’s side of the now-totaled pickup truck and told the officers that she had been a passenger, rather than the driver. The female officer confronted McFarlin in what the victim called “an aggressive pose with her hands on her hips and told me that I better be telling the truth or I was going to jail. This was her first approach to me. I told her just what happened, and she said I was lying and I better not lie or I was going to jail.”
In need of medical treatment, McFarlin was taken by ambulance to the Aurora Medical Center. Eager to find some excuse to seize the woman and take her to jail, the cops tagged along. Despite the absence of any evidence that an actual crime had occurred, or a plausible motive for the injured, elderly woman to be an accomplice to one, the officer — exercising her privilege to lie in an effort to get an innocent person to incriminate herself — devised a bizarre scenario in which McFarlin faced possible conspiracy charges:
“She said things like what are your grandchildren going to think of you. She said there was a video of a black man getting out of the truck, and I was lying. This went on and on. She kept saying I would go to jail for some man.”
McFarlin plaintively insisted that she was the driver and that she hadn’t contacted any mysterious “black man” during the incident. Without any evidence to justify the arrest, the officers cuffed the injured woman and dragged her away — in full view of patients and visitors — to their squad car, and took her to Milwaukee’s District 3 police station. She wasn’t allowed to call anyone, and for all she knew the day that had begun with her losing a pickup truck and suffering significant injuries would end with her in jail.
After interrogating McFarlin for several hours, her kidnappers released her without even a perfunctory apology. Sgt. Timothy Gauerke, a propaganda officer for the department, told the Journal-Sentinel that McFarlin told the officers “she understood they were doing their job” and that the abductors “gave the woman a break, because of her age, by handcuffing in front rather than behind her back.”
According to Gauerke, McFarlin’s arrest was a form of summary punishment for not agreeing with the story the officers had invented. Officers are taught to say that they know subjects of an investigation are lying; this is “to encourage the person, ‘Look, the jig is up, we know what happened. You may as well just tell us.’ She stuck with her story and that’s why she was arrested.”
Under the reign of Chief Ed Flynn, the Milwaukee PD has acquired a well-deserved reputation for abusive behavior and hostility to the public it supposedly serves — and for the infliction of summary “street justice” during trivial encounters with citizens.
A few years ago, reacting to a statement by the Wisconsin Attorney General affirming the right of law-abiding citizens to carry firearms openly, Chief Flynn declared:
“My message to my troops is if you see anybody carrying a gun on the streets of Milwaukee, we’ll put them on the ground, take the gun away, and then decide whether you have a right to carry it.”
The behavior of the officers who dealt with Joy McFarlin was an application of the same principle: Rather than being treated as the victim of a terrible accident, the elderly woman was presumed to be a criminal worthy of immediate punishment on any available pretext. The department’s recent history demonstrates that McFarlin was indeed treated with exceptional gentleness when she was merely shackled without cause, abducted at gunpoint, and detained needlessly for three hours. Her day could have turned out immeasurably worse.
In September 2012, four of Flynn’s “troops” who had followed his orders with exceptional zeal were charged with felonies for assaulting and strip-searching citizens both in the street and in district stations. In one case, three officers restrained a victim – one of them putting him into a choke hold, while another held a gun to his head – while a third jammed a hand into his rectum.
The ringleader of this rape gang, Officer Michael Vagnini, was charged with 25 counts of sexual assault and related crimes.
For several years, the Milwaukee PD played host to a hyper-violent clique that adopted the logo of the nihilistic comic book character called the “Punisher.” Members of that self-selected group displayed that insignia on their police vehicles and their uniforms while prowling the streets in search of people whom they could “put on the ground.” Among their prey was a male dancer named Frank Jude, who was nearly beaten to death in October 2004 because he was suspected of stealing a badge.
After Flynn’s “troops” put the terrified male dancer “on the ground,” they beat, kicked, and choked him – then put a knife to his throat and jammed a pen into one of his ears. The victim survived the assault, but was left with permanent brain damage. The officers later claimed that this amount of violence was necessary to “subdue” Jude – who was never charged in connection with the incident. The jury in the criminal trial accepted that claim and acquitted the officers, but they were later charged with federal civil rights violations.
Former Milwaukee Police Officer Jon Bartlett, the ringleader of the gang beating, was eventually convicted — along with six others — in federal court charges. An internal affairs investigation conducted by MPD Commander James A Galezewski produced a detailed description of the Punishers in official reports compiled in two separate investigations — one in 2005, the other in 2007. He also described his findings at length in a sworn deposition in November 2010.
One training supervisor and at least one active-duty police officer were identified as current members of the gang. Nonetheless, as late as January 2011, Flynn insisted that the existence of the gang was merely a matter of “rumor.” A reasonable surmise would be that Flynn wasn’t engaging in conscious deception; after all, the moral gradient separating his normal “troops” from the berserkers who belong to the “Punishers” gang isn’t very steep.
Joy McFarlin was on the way to a local casino to enjoy bingo and a buffet with a handful of friends when an irresponsible driver nearly killed her by running a red light. Then the police materialized and her already ruined day took a dramatic turn for the worse — as things always do when the state’s armed emissaries intervene.
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