Spingola Files Shout Outs: U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, Judge Jeffrey Wagner Set an Example for Others to Emulate

Once again, one of Wisconsin’s voices of reason in congress, U.S. Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner did the right thing on Thursday by voting for an amendment, offered by Rep. Justin Amash, a Michigan Republican, that would have prevented any of the funds made available in the Appropriations Act or continuing funding resolution from being funneled to any order made under section 501 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

This section of the Patriot Act (sec. 501) gives federal authorities the right to apply for and receive business records, such as debt and credit card transactions, bank statements, telephone records, and information stored by utility providers.  Rep. Sensenbrenner, who authored the USA Patriot Act in 2001, believes that the National Security Agency’s (NSA) seizure of the metadata of Americans’ telephone records violates the provisions of the very act he authored.

Clearly, by gathering data on Americans not linked to foreign terrorists or absent a lawful court order (unlike the broad based seizures approved by the secret FISA court) the NSA has exceeded the authority of its charter.

While campaigning for his current office, President Obama promised to rein-in government surveillance initiatives that trampled on civil liberties.  Now, however, the Obama administration’s expansion of Orwellian-type spying—not of suspected terrorists but on law abiding Americans—is the equivalent of George Bush and Dick Cheney on steroids.

While the vote to restrict the government’s use of section 501 funding failed on a vote of 217-205, a bi-partisan group of Republicans and Democrats in the House of Representatives have pledged that section 215 of the Patriot Act—a provision that allows the FBI to demand that carriers and technology companies give government agents data that MIGHT be relevant to an investigation—will not be renewed when it expires in 2015.

In a letter to the U.S. Justice Department, Rep. Sensenbrenner noted that, “Section 215 expires at the end of 2015.  Unless you realize you’ve got a problem, that is not going to be renewed. There are not the votes in the House of Representatives to renew section 215.”

Jim Sensenbrenner is a representative who understands that privacy and security require a delicate balance.  Unfortunately, the Obama administration, as well as 215 members of the House of Representatives, have bought into the statist mentality of the burgeoning security-industrial complex that, they apparently believe, takes precedent to the Bill of Rights.


From my experience as an investigator in Milwaukee County, I, along with dozens of other detectives, are well aware that Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Jeffrey Wagner is a hardworking jurist always willing to step up to the plate, even in the middle of the night, to review and authorize search warrants or to deal with other matters of criminal justice import.

Having spent a fair amount of time in Judge Wagner’s court, as well as in his chambers where he carefully scrutinized search warrants, I saw, first hand, an outstanding elected official that is willing to work with minor offenders while holding those who flaunt the law accountable.

Hence, I was dismayed to read the remarks of some the apparent supporters of Michael Vagnini, who, in the comments section of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, denounced Judge Wagner’s 26 month prison sentence of the former Milwaukee police officer, convicted of conducting unauthorized strip searches, as too harsh.

Considering the gravity of the offenses, which under Wisconsin law might be construed as sexual penetration, the crew at SF believes the judge’s sentence of Vagnini was measured and reasonable.

Quite frankly, it is difficult to excuse an officer’s abuse of authority when the Milwaukee Police Department has a specific policy regarding strip searches.  No doubt, Vagnini believed he was on a mission to beat back crime, but he attended the police academy, was knowledgeable of Wisconsin state statutes, and was keenly aware that he was violating the law.

Over three decades ago when I was new officer, a veteran cop told me not to get too concerned when a drug dealer beats a rap or somehow managed to successfully secret his product from the police.  After all, he reasoned, D.O.P.E. is an acronym for death or prison eventually.  If the law doesn’t catch up with drug dealers, often times their rivals, suppliers, or customers will.


Steve Spingola is an author and retired Milwaukee Police Department homicide detective. His latest print edition only book, Best of the Spingola Files, Volumes I & II, is now available at Amazon.com.


If your organization is on the lookout for an outstanding guest speaker, please consider the Spingola Files’ Psychology of Homicide presentation.

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© Steven Spingola, Wales, WI, 2013

3 Responses

  1. Glenn D. Frankovis

    I don’t dispute anything you wrote here, but regarding the Vagnini case, and others like his which have occurred in the past where cops have crossed a bit too far over the line to try to make neighborhoods safer, I am always reminded of this quote from General H. Norman Schwarzkopf as he reminisced about his time in Vietnam: From his book, It Doesn’t Take a Hero, (Page 189) he writes: “…we averaged one mine incident per day. Every time a mine went off, I flew immediately to the site. …. Mines have an insidious effect on morale – the troops are walking along and suddenly somebody is dead or has lost a limb; a helicopter swoops in and takes him away, and there is nothing the men can do to even the score. While I abhorred the massacre at My Lai, I could also imagine how it could have happened. I could read the emotions in the faces of my own men. If I’d said, ‘The people in that village obviously knew this mine was here; in fact, one of them probably planted it. Go clear the place out,’ they’d have killed everyone in sight.”

    July 27, 2013 at 4:46 pm

  2. Victor Orlikowski

    On 10/4/13 judge wagner sentenced jacob knight to a misdemeanor charge for his role in illegal strip searches(he witnessed vagnini anal penetrate a 15 year old boy where no drugs were found)Knight gets 20 days house of correction,60 days community service,and $300. fine.
    A cop witnesses this illegal activity of another officer and is given this slap in the hand by judge wagner and you praise him for his jurisprudence!
    You may want to rethink your opinion! This is no where near any kind of justice!

    October 5, 2013 at 8:05 pm

  3. Victor Orlikowski

    Officer Vagnini gets sentenced today with a little over a 2 yr.sentence.This mpd officer violates the law and gets a slap on the wrist!
    This is in no way holding this officer accountable! There is really something seriously wrong with the criminal justice system in Milwaukee.

    December 31, 2013 at 12:57 am

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