When Advocates Want it Both Ways

Yesterday, members of the Milwaukee branch of the NAACP and Operation Rainbow PUSH—the outfit operated by Jesse Jackson—continued to criticize the Milwaukee Police Department (MPD) for its investigation of the shooting death of 13-year-old Darius Simmons on the city’s near south side.  

Seventy-five-year-old John H. Spooner is charged with the slaying.  Similar to the fed-up, out-of-control character portrayed by Michael Douglas in the movie Falling Down, prosecutors allege that Spooner shot-and-killed Simmons because the elderly man believed that the teenager had burglarized his home.

The critics of the MPD’s investigation, however, are not complaining about the thorough investigation that expeditiously resulted in serious criminal charges.  Instead, these armchair cops are taking the MPD to task for questioning Simmons’ mother, Patricia Larry, for nearly two hours inside of a detective’s squad car.


Unfortunately, police departments around the nation are often second guessed after investigators have painstakingly pieced together the pieces of the puzzle.  In hindsight, what looks relatively straight forward after the fact might appear rather convoluted in the minutes and hours immediately following a critical incident.

“I’ve been to parking troubles that turned-out to be shootings, and shootings that turned-out to be parking troubles,” a veteran officer told me during one of my first days on the street.  “The information given to you by the dispatcher is only as reliable as the caller. Keep an open mind and let the facts, not someone’s opinion, lead the way.”

And, more often than not, shooting scenes are somewhat chaotic, especially when the victim’s family is on the scene and emotions are, understandingly, running high.

Answering the who, what, why, when, where, and how, questions takes time, as information from witnesses, as well as the relationship between the suspect and victim, needs verification. 

Moreover, the grilling Ms. Larry received, I would argue, is fairly typical. 

When a Milwaukee police officer uses deadly force, the officer and his or her partner, as well as other law enforcement witnesses, are immediately separated.  Some of these officers are shuffled into the same interrogation rooms used to question suspects of gang related shootings, armed robberies, and homicides.  In the past, some officers where ‘dissuaded’ from calling their spouses to simply let them know that they were still in one piece.

Criminal Investigation 101 calls upon detectives to preserve the integrity of an investigation by separating and then interviewing witnesses, victims, and suspects, before those involved have a chance to compare notes.

In the aftermath of Jeffrey Dahmer, the community and various special interest groups demanded that the MPD conduct thorough criminal investigations.  Now, however, members of these same special interest groups are complaining that the MPD’s investigators are ‘too thorough.’  

For these armchair cops, you can’t have it both ways. 

The bottom line is the bottom line. A crime was committed, a suspected was located and arrested; the District Attorney’s office charged the alleged perpetrator—and all of these activities were conducted within the bounds of the law and the Constitution.  


Steve Spingola is an author and retired Milwaukee Police Department homicide detective. His new book, Best of the Spingola Files, Volume I, is now available at Amazon.com.

If your group is in need of a fascinating guest speaker, consider the Spingola Files Psychology of Homicide presentation.  For more information, visit:

www.badgerwordsmith.com/the_psychology_of_homicide_presentation.html  or www.badgerwordsmith.com/books.html

© Steven Spingola, Wales, WI, 2012

2 Responses

  1. Glenn Frankovis

    Not having anymore info than what was written in the paper, and not having the experience of being deep into the investigative side as an experienced Detective like yourself, my two immediate concerns were of the extended interview of the mother inside the Squad car and of the alleged “trashing” of the house during the search. Chief Flynn put the house search issue to rest for me when he spoke about how the rooms searched were photgraphed to show that the house wasn’t “trashed” as alleged. I understand the separating of witnesses for all the reasons you stated, but in a situation like this where a mother is closely involved, I just tend to look at it from a different (call it compassionate) angle as to where and how the interview should be conducted. I think it’s always important to try to be several plays ahead (like in a chess match) whenever possible and anticipate reactions such as this. The objective is going to be the same. It’s the road we take to get there.

    As for the movie comparison, the one that came to mind immediately after hearing the initial information of Spooner was Clint Eastwood’s character, Walt Kowalski, in Gran Torino. As an aside, I wonder if a “No/Slow Dispatch Policy” played any role in the frustration expressed by Spooner in his earlier discussion with Alderman Bob Donovan. Sounds to me like it might be one of those “small” things that led to something very tragic due to the old guy’s apparent loss of confidence in the Police Department (not unlike Michael Douglas’ character in the end when he responded to the Detective with “I’m the bad guy? How’d that happen?”). We’re starting to see more and more of this “frustration” being played out like this all over the country, and I think it’s going to increase as Police Departments don’t emphasize tending to the small neighborhood complaints rather than what I call “preemptive policing”.

    June 16, 2012 at 2:43 pm

  2. David Kane

    As you know, I have always been an advocate of the 48 hour rule of investigations, whereas time lapses immediatley after a major crime can be detrimental to the successful conclusion of a case.
    Having been in that detective squad myself many times and conducted hundreds of similar investigations as a detective, I know the importance of a thorough interview conducted at the scene.
    As I sit here I can think of numerous questions I would have asked the Mother of this young victim. It also deserves noting that the Mother was probably distraught and may have needed to be calmed down by the investigators, also a part of their technique for a fruitful interview. This takes sensitivity and valuable time.
    Let those who criticize, criticize. The police will continue to do their jobs as they always have; in a tried and true manner.

    July 5, 2012 at 10:04 pm

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