Posts tagged “Riverwest

When Debacles Occur Watch the Politics

As documented by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, a sting operation run by the Milwaukee branch of the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives (ATF) solidified the concept of Murphy’s Law into the arena of criminal investigations.

Snafus are nothing new to law enforcement.  The Jeffrey Dahmer case is prime example. During one contact, the serial killer managed to slip through the fingers of officers. Then, once Dahmer was in custody, guards at the jail asked the killer to autograph a newspaper bearing his likeness.  Of course, grandstanding politicians—primarily John Norquist, Milwaukee’s mayor at the time—used these embarrassing mistakes as a catalyst to ‘transform’ the Milwaukee Police Department, which caused a Grand Canyon-sized rift between Police Chief Phil Arreola and the MPD’s rank-and-file. Ironically, karma has a way of keeping score, as a real scandal—one that resulted in the moniker “Johnny Appleseed” being uttered by a snickering few—paved the way for the then mayor’s exit.

In the ATF case, a series of discomfiting events gave the Riverwest Operation a black eye.

“Of all the mistakes by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in its flawed gun-buying sting in Milwaukee last year,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporters John Diedrich and Raquel Rutledge wrote, “the loss of the government-owned Colt M4 stands as the gravest threat to public safety.”

The M4, a high-powered rifle with the ability to fire multiple rounds with one pull of the trigger, was stolen from an agent’s SUV while the vehicle was parked at a local coffee shop.  After an intense search that yielded solid suspects, the rifle remains in the wind.

And, while the ATF’s sting ran amuck, the operation did shed some light on property crime in the Riverwest area, as burglars snared $40,000 worth of merchandise the store front rented by the agency to conduct the sting.

Now, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that the ATF used a 28-year-old man with a diminished mental capacity to distribute fliers and solicit the public to visit the store. Later, the man was indicted on firearms related charges related to the operation.

The negative press emanating from this failed sting comes on the heels of the little covered U.S. Supreme Court decision in Millbrook v. the United States. In a rare unanimous decision, the court held that the U.S. government can be held liable for abuses intentionally carried out by law enforcement officers as a result of their employment. However, the individual agents have little to fear financially. Under the Federal Torts Courts Claim Act (FTCA), it is the taxpayers that are left holding the bag.

“FTCA judgments are paid by an unlimited fund provided by Congress,” said attorney Jeff Bucholtz, an attorney who argued against Millbrook, “so it doesn’t hurt prison guards or their supervisors when judgments are paid out under the statute.”

After the Operation Fast and Furious debacle—an ATF operation that oversaw the transfer of firearms to Mexcian narco-gang members; whereby,  one of the weapons was later used to murder a U.S. Border Patrol agent—you can bet the missing M4 stolen from the Milwaukee agent’s SUV is causing many  sleepless nights for ATF bureaucrats.


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

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© Steven Spingola, Wales, WI, 2013