While it’s a broom handle shy of Abner Louima, it bears that personal touch that only a sick man with power, and the knowledge that his buddies wouldn’t rat him out, can appreciate. Milwaukee cop MIchael Vagnini decided that he would insert his finger in the anus of “suspects” when and where he wanted to.
From the Journal-Sentinel :
Four Milwaukee police officers were charged Tuesday with felonies related to illegal rectal searches of suspects on the street and in police district stations over the past two years.
In one case, an officer held a gun to a man’s head as two others held his arms and a third put him in a choke hold while jamming a hand into his anus, purportedly searching for evidence, according to the criminal complaint. Another man bled from his rectum for several days after his encounter with police, the complaint says.
The complaint lays out in graphic detail how the primary suspect, Officer Michael Vagnini, conducted searches of men’s anal and scrotal areas, often inserting his fingers into their rectums. Vagnini acknowledged performing one of the searches. At least one suspect said Vagnini planted drugs on him.
Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn, whose department was “already under fire over the in-custody death of Derek Williams, detaining the mother of a slain boy and reporting inaccurate crime statistics to the FBI and the public,” who shirked off responsibility by saying that “misconduct occurs in every big-city police department,” offered some startling statements. For example:
All of the officers have been on the job long enough to know that the types of searches alleged were illegal and against policy, Flynn said.
Does he mean to suggest that cops, say for the year on the job, aren’t aware of the fact that they can’t anally rape suspects because they want to? While Flynn now calls the conduct disgraceful, it wasn’t of sufficient concern to stop when the first complaints came in.
The charges issued Tuesday mark the end of an investigation that began in March, when the Police Department notified the district attorney’s office of the allegations.
At the time, Flynn said the department had been aware of complaints about potentially illegal searches for “a couple of years,” but waited to investigate until authorities recognized a pattern.
More than six months elapsed since the department decided to take the complaints seriously, but they were aware of the complaints “about potentially illegal searches” for years and did nothing. Incidentally, there is nothing “potential” about the illegal searches. The insertion of a cop’s finger into the anus of a suspect is, without question, illegal.
Flynn makes a point to note that this was intentional misconduct, which he emphatically distinguishes from mere “error.” Error, he states, is treated differently. Whether there is any scenario in which this could be error remains a mystery, unless he’s suggesting that Milwaukee hands a gun and shield to cops and puts them on the street unaware that they cannot insert their fingers into people’s anuses. In which case, it was just a mistake, no matter how much damages they do.
To blame Vagnini is easy; it takes little cause to assert that this was a combination of a sick individual with the power to indulge his desire to torture, humiliate, inflict disgusting pain and suffering on others. To blame the other cops who watched and did nothing is critical. That someone like Vagnini gains access to a shield can happen. That others watch the show, facilitate Vagnini’s crime, is inexcusable. Obviously, the blue wall precludes their ratting out their brethren, no matter how sick he may be, but that provides no excuse.
What cannot be sanctioned is the department’s, Flynn’s, willingness to let this go on for years while doing nothing. Attorneys for the victims of Vagnini say that there are others as well.
Jonathan Safran, a lawyer who represents two of the men who said they were assaulted, called the charges “another sad chapter” for the city and the department.
“This is, I am afraid, the tip of the iceberg,” he said. “There is a culture in the Milwaukee Police Department that, unfortunately, has led to a number of civil rights violations.”
Like Safran, [Robin] Shellow said she has spoken with other victims – including the mothers of underage boys – who were afraid to report the abuse because of their own criminal records.
This comes as no surprise, as one would anticipate only a fraction of those abused would complain, both out of fear as well as the belief that it’s a futile gesture. And this should have been apparent when the first complaints rolled in, at which point an investigation should have begun had the Chief Flynn cared enough for the citizens of Milwaukee to stop it. He obviously didn’t, as years elapsed while Vagnini continued to meet anuses he desired to enter.
As Jonathan Safran noted, the problem is one of culture, which is invariably at the heart of cops feelings empowered to do whatever the please on the streets. But even with a culture that cares nothing for constitutional rights and empowers cops to do as they please without fear, conduct like this crosses the line of any somewhat civilized society. That it’s not quite as evil as what was done to Abner Louima when NYPD cop Justin Volpe rammed a broom handle up his anus in a precinct bathroom doesn’t mean that it doesn’t fall far beyond the bounds of a disgusting and brutal assault.
And yet, the Milwaukee Police Department was aware of complaints that citizens were being sodomized on the street by cops and ignored it, unworthy of even an investigation no less action, for years. This didn’t happen because of one sick cop. This didn’t happen because a few others were cowards at best and enablers at worst. This happened because Chief Flynn’s police department didn’t think it was worth the time or effort to stop it. No amount of adjectives at a press conference now will absolve Flynn of his failure to act for years.
H/T Radley Balko