Archive for September, 2010

Gun Toting in Madison: Are All Constitutional Rights Considered Equal?

With the exception of Berkeley, California, the city of Madison, Wisconsin is probably the most liberal town in the United States, although activists there prefer the label “progressive.”  But an incident that occurred at a northeast side restaurant is testing the Madison Police Department’s respect for the state and federal Constitutions.   

On September 18, five men decided to pay a visit to a Culver’s restaurant, located near the popular East Towne Mall.  Seated at a picnic table outside, the men politely conversed over some custard that they had purchased.  The only thing that distinguished these particular customers from the others was the holstered firearms that they openly carried. 

Wondering if such conduct was lawful, a 62-year-old woman contacted the Madison police.  Soon, a swarm of officers responded to the call of gun-toting, custard eating men. 

When the officers arrived, they demanded identification.  Two of the five men politely declined to identify themselves.  They were handcuffed, searched, and issued tickets for obstructing the issuance of a citation.  In Wisconsin, however, individuals contacted by law enforcement are not required to identity themselves unless they’re operating a motor vehicle, where the law requires the production of a driver’s license.

A legal representative for the five men, members of a group that advocates the open carry of firearms, immediately threatened legal action.

And it looks as if the men may have a case.

It seems the actions of the Madison officers, and the subsequent response from their chief-of-police, runs contrary to a April 19, 2009, opinion issued by Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen.

“His [Attorney General Van Hollen’s] memorandum to prosecutors” writes Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter Patrick Marley, “says the mere act of having a gun does not warrant a charge of disorderly conduct, a position that pro-gun advocates have argued in several recent legal cases.” 

Van Hollen further explained that openly carrying firearms, even if technically legal, does not exempt those who do so from questioning.  Of course, the current state of the law allows a law enforcement officer to contact virtually anyone in a public place.  There is some ambiguity in the AG’s opinion as it relates to an official stop and the subsequent temporary detention of an individual if a reasonable suspicion does not exist that they are violating a local ordinance or state law, which goes to the heart of the Madison Police Department’s actions. 

After all, absent an officer’s belief that a reasonable suspicion exists that a crime is being committed, has been committed or is about to be committed, citizens are not obligated to comply when simply contacted by the police.

But instead of apologizing to the two men, who were handcuffed, searched and cited for doing nothing illegal, it appears that the Madison police have dug in their heels. After releasing the two citations for obstructing the issuance of a citation, Madison’s police chief, Noble Wray, ordered his officers to issue each of the five men disorderly conduct citations.

“The complaint clearly reveals she [the woman who called the police] recognized the potential for violence from these armed men and it was this fear that motivated her call to police,” Madison Police Department spokesman Joel DeSpain told the Wisconsin State Journal. 

On Friday, however, WTMJ talk-show host and former Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeff Wagner obtained the 62-year-old woman’s 911 call, where she clearly told the 911 operator that she was not disturbed but simply found the presence of openly carried firearms out of place.  On his show, Wagner went so far as to call Madison’s police chief “a liar.”

Listen to the 911 call by following this link: http://www.examiner.com/gun-rights-in-washington-dc/madison-five-911-call-video

It appears that, after the fact and facing the possibility of legal action from the open carry organization, the Madison Police Department sent detectives to re-interview the woman. Why these detectives were assigned follow-up to a complaint, that any objective person, having listened to the 911 tape would find baseless, I believe, points to some skillful posterior covering. 

But the police chief’s response goes further. 

In a September 22, 2010, news release, Noble Wray tells his officers that, “The individual [openly carrying a firearm] should be contacted, controlled, and frisked for weapons if appropriate. Officers should separate the suspect from any weapons in his/her possession during the encounter.”

But what if the party simply being ‘contacted’ for conduct the Wisconsin Attorney General believes is lawful does not wish to comply and is then ‘controlled’ and their lawfully held property seized for examination? Wray’s memo seems to place his officers in the field between the proverbial rock and a hard place.

You can bet that open carry advocates will continue to push the envelope and many of these issues will likely be decided in state and federal courts. 

In the meantime, taxpayers in the city of Madison—hang on to your wallets.

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Steven Spingola is a former Milwaukee Police Department homicide detective and the author of Predators on the Parkway: a Former Homicide Detective Explores the Colonial Parkway Murders.

© Steven Spingola, Wales, WI, 2010


“Secret Meeting” with Gang Members Runs Amuck in Chi-town

About 100 miles to the southeast of the laid-back, small town of Wales, Wisconsin–home to the Spingola Files HQ, the bustling city of Chicago seems worlds away. Yet the controversy surrounding Chicago’s Police Superintendent, Jody Weis, is reminiscent of a southeastern Wisconsin brouhaha that occurred nearly two-decades ago.

Through forwarded e-mails from those in law enforcement, as well as reports in the media, it appears that—at least amongst rank-and-file Chicago cops—Weis is as popular as a contagious virus. 

Mayor Richard M. Daley’s political machinery hired Weis, a 23-year veteran of the FBI, two-and-and-half-years ago.  Prior to becoming Chicago’s 54th Superintendent of Police, Weis was the FBI’s Assistant Deputy Director of the Office of Professional Responsibility—fancy terminology for being the second in command of  the FBI’s internal affairs unit.  In other words, he had no local law enforcement expreience. 

Members of Daley’s inner circle believed Weis would reform the Chicago PD, which, like many other big-city police departments had—rightly or wrongly—come under fire for a variety of issues.

The Daley machine’s experiment has apparently gone awry.

In late August, Chicago Police Lieutenant John Andrews disclosed that he is under investigation by the superintendent’s internal affairs unit for posting, to say the least, his not-so-complementary opinions of Weis on a personal blog. 

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-met-police-officer-blog-20100825,0,1041713.story

In most police departments, internal affairs is the only unit that reports directly to the agency’s chief-of-police or superintendent, which means the investigation of Andrews is being overseen by Weis.  As such, there is little doubt regarding the investigation’s outcome, even though Andrews’ take appears to represent the majority of the Chicago PD’s rank-and-file.

It is, however, a meeting Weis recently arranged with Chicago street thugs that has become the lightning rod for critics, not just inside Chicago political circles, but throughout law enforcement in the Midwest.    

According to the Chicago Tribune, Weis, federal authorities, and others “secretly met with a group of West Side gang leaders at the Garfield Park Conservatory [in August], informing them over snacks and beverages that they would be held directly accountable for shootings and other violent crimes committed by their gangs.”

To many rank-and-file cops, especially those old enough to recall the 1980s police drama Hill Street Blues, Weis’ sit down with street toughs appeared eerily reminiscent of Frank Firillo, the captain of the Hill Street precinct, who, on occasion, would bring local gang bangers into his office for discussions.  

A similar event almost occurred in Milwaukee in the early 1990s, when the administration of Phil Arreola, a police chief also hired from the outside, hinted at an outreach with members of the Conservative Vice Lords.  Popular conservative talk-show host Mark Belling had a field day with the notion, which kind-of just went away.  Others would say the idea was a trial balloon turned burning Zeppelin before it was officially ever floated.

Mitchell Nevin’s fictional book, The Cozen Protocol, portrays a comparable incident that appears ripped from the pages of the Arreola era (a suggestion to Mayor Daley: down load a copy to your i-Phone. The end result is not a positive one).

To be fair, Weis, on the other hand, portrayed the meeting with gang bangers as an opportunity to lay-down the law.  While appearing on WBBM radio’s At Issue program, (which airs tomorrow at 9:30 a.m.), the superintendent said he was “shocked and amazed” at the negative reaction.

http://wbbm.cbslocal.com/2010/09/03/top-cop-shocked-and-amazed-by-reaction-to-gang-meet/

 Mayor Daley, echoing the mantra often used to justify touchy-feely policies, told the Chicago Tribune the meeting was ‘worth pursuing if it could save a life.’

Critics, including myself, charge that arranging a “secret meeting” with gang members provides these groups with instant street creditability. Moreover, why was this meeting, if it was indeed such a solid concept, conducted under the shroud of secrecy?  My guess is that Chicago’s version of Mark Belling, if one does exist, might have created the spark needed to engulf Weis’ wobbly Zeppelin.

After all, wouldn’t a meeting with the good kids—those striving to do the right things in some of Chicago’s troubled neighborhoods—have been more productive and deserving of these public officials’ time, as well as the snacks and beverages given, for free, to the thug element?  

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Steven Spingola is a former Milwaukee Police Department homicide detective and the author of “The Killer in Our Midst: the Case of Milwaukee’s North Side Strangler” and “Predators on the Parkway: a Former Homicide Detective Explores the Colonial Parkway Murders.”

© Steven Spingola, Wales, WI, 2010