Milwaukee police “acted inappropriately” when they tased and arrested NBA rookie Sterling Brown in January, the city’s police chief said Wednesday.
“Our department conducted investigated into the incident, members acted inappropriately and have been disciplined,” Milwaukee Police Chief Alfonso Morales told reporters at a news conference, reading a prepared statement.
“I’m sorry this incident escalated to this level,” added Morales, who was named chief in April.
Body camera footage of the incident released by the department Wednesday appears to contradict a previous police report that characterized Brown, 23, as combative. In a statement posted to Twitter, Brown said he planned to take legal action against the Milwaukee Police Department.
— SB (@thatnegus_sb) May 23, 2018
“There are no easy solutions to this problem, but there are strides that can be made to create change,” he wrote. “I will do my part in helping to prevent similar incidents from happening to the minority community in the future.”
Milwaukee Police Chief Alfonso Morales held a news conference on the day body camera footage of Sterling Brown’s encounter with police was released. Watch his remarks in the player above.
“When I took office, I vowed to rebuild trust between the Milwaukee Police Department and the community. We are doing that. I promised that when the Department is involved in events of this nature, we will be honest about them. We are.”
No questions were allowed at the news conference, a fact that inspired several reporters to ask why. The chief provided his statement before reporters were able to view the released camera footage. “I thought this was transparency motivated?” one reporter asked as officials filed out of the room.
The original incident
Around 2 a.m. local time on Jan. 26, police said an officer initially approached Brown, who is African- American, after he had parked in two handicapped parking spaces at a local Walgreens store.
The encounter soon escalated, according to a police report, when Brown “stood within arm’s reach” of the responding officer who was writing a ticket. When Brown “repeatedly” failed to comply with an officer’s demands to step back, another officer was requested.
Brown grew more combative, according to the responding officer’s account, and a Taser was used to help get the basketball player into handcuffs. Initially, police said it was an “electronic control device” that was deployed.
Brown had faced a possible misdemeanor charge of resisting or obstructing an officer, the Journal Sentinel reported, but the charge never came. The Bucks guard was never formally charged with a crime.
Later that same day, Brown played in a game against the Brooklyn Nets with visible marks on his face.
One of the first guys out on the court to get ready for tonight's gave vs. the Nets is Sterling Brown. pic.twitter.com/STLcNKqkZE
— Cristina Tuso CBS 58 (@CristinaTuso) January 26, 2018
He told local TV station WITI that the incident was “an issue I’m dealing with right now,” adding that, “It’s being handled. I’d appreciate it if you all respect that right now.” Brown did not discuss the matter further.
The new footage
In the 30-minute long video of the incident, an officer is heard questioning Brown over a parking violation. At one point, the officer, who has yet to be identified by officials, tells Brown to “back up” several times.
Brown appears to take a step back at those requests. He also does not appear to actively moving toward the officer, either.
“Are you obstructing me? I just told you to back up,” the officer told Brown. The officer is seen and heard touching the body camera, telling Brown that everything’s being captured on the small piece of equipment.
“You touched me first,” Brown is heard saying.” “That’s right, I told you to back up,” the officer responded. The officer is heard later telling Brown that he’s acting all “badass,” adding that he gave Brown “legitimate requests” to back up.
Minutes later, after more officers have arrived at the scene, and Brown answered more questions about his parked vehicle, the situation escalates. At this point, several officers have surrounded Brown.
“Take your hands out of your pockets now!” one officer is heard yelling. Soon after, at least four officers are seen in the video wrestling Brown to the ground. Moments later, an officer yelled, “Taser, Taser, Taser!” Grunts, presumably from Brown, can then be heard.
How city officials are reacting
City and police officials had shown certain community leaders the body camera footage of the encounter before its release Wednesday. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett told reporters at a news conference on Monday that he had “concerns” after watching the video, adding that the police chief had a similar reaction.
Barrett did not elaborate on what he found disturbing. But others who said they viewed the footage told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that Brown did not appear to be combative in the video, despite that characterization by the police department when the encounter occurred.
Why it matters
Milwaukee has been under intense scrutiny before for police misconduct cases, including the police shooting death of Sylville Smith in 2016. The officer in the encounter, Dominique Heaggan-Brown, was found not guilty of first-degree reckless homicide in Smith’s death the following year. In February, Heaggan-Brown was sentenced to three years in prison in a separate sexual assault case. Heaggan-Brown is no longer with the department; he was fired in 2016.
Incidents like the Smith case have touched off weeks of protests in the city, one of the country’s most racially segregated places.
Years before Brown and Smith’s cases, an officer shot Donte Hamilton, who is black, 14 times after responding to a complaint against the 31-year-old for sleeping on a bench in a local park.
As with other high-profile police shooting cases, the officer did not face charges in Hamilton’s death. Milwaukee and Christopher Manney, who has since been fired from the police department, now face a civil suit over the former officer’s apparent failure to follow proper procedures in responding to people with mental illnesses.
On Tuesday, police chief Morales released a video this week, addressed to Milwaukeeans, saying that he will admit when his officers make a mistake. In those incidents, he promised to “be honest and transparent.” The video was a bid to help with trust between police officers and the community.
Video by Milwaukee Police
“In those instances where we have made mistakes and are wrong, I’m sorry,” the chief said in the “Message to the Community” video, posted to the department’s official YouTube page.
A day before the video’s release, Brown’s lawyer signaled that there were plans to file a lawsuit over the arrest.
Moments after the video was released today, the Bucks released a statement, saying Brown experienced “abuse and intimidation” by the Milwaukee police. The organization added that it fully supported Brown as he seeks accountability.
“Unfortunately, this isn’t an isolated case,” the Bucks’ statement read. “It shouldn’t require an incident involving a professional athlete to draw attention to the fact that vulnerable people in our communities have experienced similar, and even worse, treatment.”
Milwaukee Council President Ashanti Hamilton told the Journal Sentinel after seeing the video earlier this week that he doesn’t “want to debate the humanity of my community anymore.”
“I don’t want to debate the humanity of the black males,” Hamilton is quoted as saying, “and then the slightest thing that you can find that they did wrong, and use that as a justification for the actions that’s used against them.”
PBS NewsHour’s Nsikan Akpan contributed to this report.