As the story of former Milwaukee Police Officer Michael Vagnini’s path to prosecution reflected the failure of cops to deal with the sickest within their ranks, the outcome hasn’t proven any better. Vagnini had a thing he liked to do when he busted someone. He liked to do it a lot.
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.
This went on for at least two years, and when the complaints piled up so high that even Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn couldn’t come up with an excuse for ignoring it, Vagnini’s pleasure at humiliating and physically violating his victims was finally subject to prosecution. Together with the cops who joined with, enabled and covered up this conduct, Vagnini was finally taken down.
In October 2012, the following charges were levied:
•against Michael Vagnini, 25 charges including a sexual assault charge;
•against Jeffrey Dollhopf, 3 felony counts of misconduct in public office, 1 felony count of false imprisonment, 1 count of being a party to an illegal cavity search, and 1 count of being a party to an illegal strip search;
•against Jacob Knight, 1 count of misconduct in public office and 1 count of being a party to the crime of an illegal cavity search;
•against Brian Kozelek, 2 count of misconduct in public office, 1 count of false imprisonment, and 1 count of being a party to the crime of an illegal strip search.
Thirty-four-year-old Michael Vagnini had faced 25 criminal charges stemming from eight strip searches and cavity searches.
The Journal Sentinel reports Vagnini accepted a plea deal Monday that would not require him to become a registered sex offender but will prevent him from continuing his law enforcement career.
Vagnini pleaded no contest to four felony charges and four misdemeanors. As part of the plea bargain, sexual assault charges were dropped. The state will recommend prison time when he is sentenced June 21.
Vagnini got prison time; a sentence of 26 months was imposed. The others, not so much.
Officer Jeffrey Dollhopf, 42, will face a $300 fine and and was ordered to 100 hours of community service for his involvement in the assaults. Since he pleaded no contest to disorderly conduct as a party to the crime, most of his charges were wiped out. As part of his deal, he agreed to resign from the department. He spent one full year on paid leave from the department.
Officer Brian Kozelek, 34, was given a similar deal. After a full year of paid vacation, he now faces a $300 fine and a mere 20 hours community service. He also agreed to voluntarily resign his position at the department.
Officer Jacob Knight, 32, will actually face a small amount of jail time. He was sentenced to 20 days in the House of Correction, a $300 fine and 60 hours of community service after an extended amount of paid time off.
The usual words were spoken by the prosecution at sentence, while Vagnini’s lawyer offered an irrelevant truth.
Prosecutors and the judge said Vagnini’s actions shocked the conscience of the community, but his own lawyer said the whole system was to blame for encouraging and rewarding Vagnini’s aggressive tactics, which he said were no secret within the department and the court system.
As accurate as it might be that “aggressive tactics” are tolerated, if not rewarded, within the police department, this conduct far transcended anything remotely approaching legitimate police work. This was deeply, seriously sick conduct, and yet at every level it somehow managed to not sufficiently outrage anyone, from cop to judge, sufficiently.
Victims of Vagnini and his crew have created a massive bottleneck in federal court, as Milwaukee seems incapable of handling the volume of cases and they’ve languished as a result.
“Unlike fine wine, they do not get better with age,” [U.S. District Judge J.P. Stadtmueller] said. “And whether it’s the Milwaukee Police Department or the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, very sadly, we have a cornucopia of litigation involving prisoners’ rights and police officers who apparently stray from that which we expect from the law enforcement community.
“And the sooner these cases are addressed in open court, the sooner we will have a law enforcement community that can be proud of their work and the community proud to have them working. But, unfortunately, we do not see that today particularly in light of these cases.”
The question remains, what will happen first: the cases of the victims of Michael Vagnini reach trial or Vagnini completes his sentence and is constrained to find a new occupation where he can stick his fingers in other people’s anuses? Maybe when he gets out of prison, Milwaukee can throw him a parade.