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Lawsuit: Officers destroyed video in case where Walworth County deputy shot man

MILWAUKEE

The mother of a man shot by a Walworth County sheriff’s deputy in 2016 is suing several police officials and municipalities because she claims “deliberate indifference and negligence” preceded her son’s death and that some of the officers destroyed squad-car camera video.

Doretha Lock, the mother of Christopher J. Davis and special administrator of his estate, filed the lawsuit Sunday regarding the Feb. 24, 2016, shooting when then-Deputy Juan Ortiz shot Davis in the head while he was a passenger in a car leaving a town of East Troy restaurant parking lot.

Davis, of Milwaukee, was 21 years old.

Police had responded to the parking lot for a drug investigation, but the lawsuit points to details that show the drug bust was poorly handled.

Former District Attorney Dan Necci cleared Ortiz of any wrongdoing, saying Ortiz thought his life was in danger when Jose G. Lara drove toward him in Davis’ 2001 Pontiac Bonneville.

Ortiz was a deputy at the time of the shooting but has since been made a detective.

Davis’ death is one of eight at the hands of Walworth County deputies and police officers in about as many years.

The lawsuit, which said Ortiz’s deadly force was not justified and against the sheriff’s policy, names as respondents:

  • Ortiz.
  • James R. Surges (former chief), Paul Schmidt and Craig Knox from the Town of East Troy Police Department.
  • Alan Boyes (former chief), Jeremy Swendrowski (current chief), Jeff Price and Aaron Hackett from the Village of East Troy Police Department
  • Sheriff Kurt Picknell and Matthew Weber of the sheriff’s office.
  • Walworth County, as well as the town of East Troy and village of East Troy as municipalities and their respective insurance agencies.

Davis’ mother seeks damages in an amount to be determined at trial, according to the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Milwaukee. The suit was first reported by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

The lawsuit also names Lara and Roberto Juarez-Nieves Jr., both of whom face criminal charges from the incident. This year, Walworth County District Attorney Zeke Wiedenfeld charged Lara with second-degree reckless homicide and Juarez-Nieves with conspiracy to deliver cocaine.

The shooting

Lara, who was the cousin of Davis’ girlfriend, asked to use Davis’ car to meet with someone who owed Lara money, the lawsuit states.

Davis, whom the lawsuit says did not know the other two were going to a drug buy, was not comfortable with Lara driving his car without him being there. Davis did not drive himself because he was afraid of driving on highways and recently had surgery on his ankles and feet.

At about 5:20 p.m. Lara and the others arrived at the parking lot of Roma’s Ristorante and Lounge. Police reported as they approached the car, Lara started to drive away toward Ortiz, who said he fired two shots as he got out of the way.

The lawsuit states Ortiz fired at least four rounds.

Before Davis died, either Lara or Juarez-Nieves called Davis’ mom, according to the lawsuit. Davis couldn’t explain his injuries or that he was dying. He could only tell her he loved her.

A car chase began with officers following Lara into Waukesha County, until he and Juarez-Nieves crashed and escaped on foot.

Davis died on his way to the hospital.

Police plans

The lawsuit claims the police response was hastily organized and poorly executed.

Price told other officers a confidential informant had said Lara would be in Roma’s parking lot in or near a Mercury Marquis. Knox said the briefing before the drug bust lasted 30 seconds. Schmidt said it was about two minutes.

Ortiz was not a part of the original arrest plan and was supposed to be backup, the lawsuit states.

“Schmidt did not believe the arrest plan was a good idea, as neither he nor Knox were in uniform or had body armor/vests,” the lawsuit states. “Schmidt did not have a duty fire arm on him, and that the information (police had) … was not enough to effectuate an arrest.”

Schmidt, one of the responding officers, told investigators Price took a wrong turn onto Highway 20, which made Knox and Schmidt the leading vehicle into the parking lot, according to the lawsuit. Schmidt called this “tactically faulty” and it should have stopped his and Knox’s “involvement right then in this whole thing.”

“Because of the lack of an adequate plan, serious bodily injury to an individual could take place,” according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit states dash camera video equipment existed during the shooting, but there is no video. Investigators looked for the video, but found that the video SD cards were removed.

“It is believed that some of the Law Enforcement Defendants purposefully removed the dash cam SD cards from their vehicles and destroyed this evidence,” the lawsuit states.

Ortiz, according to the lawsuit, used deadly and excessive force. Shooting into the car violated the sheriff’s policy and, “Ortiz created a self-inflicted dangerous situation by his actions.”

“He (Ortiz) did not know whether the occupants of the vehicle contained felons or whether the occupants had committed a felony to justify a police stop,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit also claims the officers were inadequately trained in using deadly force and using confidential informants for drug buys and arrests.

Finally, Lara and Juarez-Nieves “owed Davis a duty of care to obey all laws while driving, and to not place Davis in a dangerous and potentially deadly situation,” the lawsuit states.


Local
Former governor talks of wife's Alzheimer's

BELOIT

Marty Schreiber used to be known as Gov. Martin Schreiber.

He served Wisconsin in that role from 1977 to 1979, stepping up from the lieutenant governor spot when Gov. Patrick Lucey left to become ambassador to Mexico.

The lawyer and former state senator went on to lose his first attempt at getting elected governor, to work as a vice president for Sentry Insurance, to lose his second gubernatorial bid and then start his own lobbying firm.

His life partner, Elaine, was with him all along the way.

At a talk at the Beloit Public Library on Wednesday night, Schreiber described her as the perfect mate.

He met Elaine at Milwaukee Lutheran High School in 1953. He knew immediately she was the one, he said.

They dated, went steady, got engaged, then married and had four children.

She was his adviser, companion, the hardest worker on his campaigns and the one who could ease the sting of losing, he said.

Then about 14 years ago, Alzheimer’s disease slowly started stealing her away.

Among the first signs: She got lost while driving to familiar places.

Schreiber became Elaine’s caregiver, a role he continues to this day. The experience led him to write a book: “My Two Elaines: Learning, Coping, and Surviving as an Alzheimer’s Caregiver.”

The first Elaine was the woman he married, he told the audience of 27 people. The second is the woman he cares for.

“This is a new person. This is a different person,” he said. And to give love and attention to this new person, he had to let go of the first.

Accepting that the old Elaine was gone was part of a journey as Schreiber learned about Alzheimer’s the hard way.

Another lesson he calls “therapeutic fibbing.”

Elaine once asked how her parents were doing. He told her the truth: Her parents had died. The shock on her face was painful to him.

The next time she asked, Schreiber told her how well her parents were enjoying their lives, which satisfied her.

Schreiber said caregivers often feel guilt and frustration as their loved one slowly loses memory and lives in fear about what is happening.

“Another reason we feel guilty is because this disease is progressive. No matter how much attention and love and affection we give our loved one, it’s still not good enough, because the next day is a new day. So what am I doing wrong? So I work harder, and I give more attention, and I devote more time, but still the disease progresses, so I must be doing something wrong.”

Caregivers should take breaks from the work and take care of themselves, Schreiber said.

And he recommended forgetting the word “no.” If she wants a glass of wine at 9:30 a.m., why not? he said.

Schreiber reports he is nearing 300 such talks since the end of 2016, hoping his experiences will help others in the same boat.

He tells stories and jokes to break up the tension in the room, which worked well. But he laid out the truth about Alzheimer’s in his book:

“It is unrelenting and irreversible, and it can drag on for years before it kills someone you love dearly. There, I just said what we all fear the most.”

Schreiber told of a woman who told him about a dementia episode in her family. Her mother called her, saying her dad was acting strangely. She rushed home to find him sitting on the living room floor and acting as if he were casting and reeling in a line.

“What are you doing?” the daughter asked.

“Fishing,” he replied.

“What are you fishing for?”

“Walleye.”

“Can I join you?”

“Sure.”

The woman joined her father on the floor and had one of the best talks with him she ever had, Schreiber said.

“Join their world,” Schreiber recommended, rather than trying to impose your own.


Obituaries and death notices for Nov. 29, 2018

Kevin L. Alwin

Ruth Evelyn Hedrick

Joe Luis Vela

Pamela Jean Wald


Juan Ortiz


Trump dismantling US climate efforts as warnings grow dire

WASHINGTON

President Donald Trump has moved steadily to dismantle Obama administration efforts to rein in coal, oil and gas emissions, even as warnings grow—from his own administration and others—about the devastating impact of climate change on the Earth and the U.S. economy.

Trump has dismissed his administration’s warnings about the impact of climate change, including a forecast released Friday that it could lead to economic losses of hundreds of billions of dollars a year by the end of the century.

“As to whether or not it’s man-made and whether or not the effects that you’re talking about are there, I don’t see it,” he said in an interview Tuesday with The Washington Post.

Trump’s position has been that efforts to combat the emissions that cause climate change have hurt the U.S. economy.

Announcing the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris global climate accord in June 2017, he said, “The Paris Climate Accord is simply the latest example of Washington entering into an agreement that disadvantages the United States to the exclusive benefit of other countries, leaving American workers—who I love—and taxpayers to absorb the cost in terms of lost jobs, lower wages, shuttered factories and vastly diminished economic production.”

An email obtained by The Associated Press under the Freedom of Information Act shows the administration withdrew from the Paris agreement with no clear climate policy in place.

“All, the purpose of this meeting is to explore whether, post Paris, we need to develop, or simply piece together from what already exists, a policy proposal that can be characterized as the ‘Trump climate policy,’” Michael Catanzaro, a former oil and gas lobbyist then serving as Trump’s energy and environment consultant, wrote to White House and Environmental Protection Agency officials days after the president’s announcement.

The EPA did not respond to requests for details on the meeting or on any subsequent Trump climate policy.

In an email Wednesday, the State Department noted that the United States is still taking part in global climate talks despite pulling out of the Paris accord.

That includes a State Department delegation to U.N. climate talks starting next week in Poland as a follow-up to the Paris talks.

“The United States continues to participate in ongoing international climate negotiations—including those related to guidance for implementing the Paris Agreement—to ensure a level playing field that benefits the United States, its workers, and its taxpayers,” the department said in a statement.

The initial shock of the abrupt U.S. retreat from the Paris accord galvanized international support for climate efforts, said Nigel Purvis, who worked on climate issues in the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations.

It “brought other nations even closer together, and they’re even more committed,” Purvis said. In the longer term, though, the Trump administration’s retreat on climate change could hurt, showing governments and companies they can flout global concerns about coal, oil and gas emissions and not be held accountable, he said.

At home, the Trump administration has initiated a rollback of a complex Obama-era effort to power the nation’s electrical grid with more renewable energy and less climate-altering coal.

“We are putting our great coal miners back to work!” Trump told a cheering crowd in West Virginia this summer, touting that rollback. Many economists challenge his claim, arguing that cheaper natural gas and other market forces will mean the continued downward slump of the U.S. coal industry.

The Obama plan had aimed at cutting U.S. emissions of climate-changing carbon dioxide by about one-third by 2030.

Separately, the country’s auto industry already is adjusting to the Trump administration’s announcement in August that it would ease Obama-era mileage standards.

Auto experts say the Trump administration’s relaxing of mileage standards will deepen American drivers’ devotion to heavier, fuel-gulping sports utility vehicles over more fuel-efficient cars.

In October, almost 65 percent of new vehicles sold in the U.S. were trucks or SUVs.

Reporters asked General Motors CEO Mary Barra this week if the Trump administration’s relaxation of the fuel economy standards played into the automaker’s announcement that it might close up to five North American car plants.

“We intend on meeting the standards whatever they are,” Barra responded.

California and more than a dozen other states have sued to try to stop the relaxation of mileage standards.

In September, the Trump administration proposed relaxing 2016 rules that would have required companies to do more to detect and plug methane leaks at oil and gas installations.

Methane is the primary component of natural gas and one of the most potent pollutants when it comes to trapping heat in the atmosphere.


Wisconsin Democrats fear GOP redistricting end-around

MADISON

Wisconsin Democrats scored a huge win when Tony Evers captured the governor’s office last month. But an even bigger fight is looming as Republican lawmakers prepare to redraw legislative boundaries, stirring fears among Democrats that their rivals could take unprecedented steps to remove Evers from the process.

State law requires legislators redraw the boundaries every 10 years to reflect population changes. It’s a high-stakes task since the party in control can craft maps that consolidate their power and lock in their majority for years.

The last time lawmakers drew new boundaries was in 2011, when Republicans controlled the Senate, Assembly and governor’s office.

A federal judicial panel invalidated the Assembly districts as an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander in 2016. The U.S. Supreme Court overturned that in June and sent the case back to the lower court to establish whether there was harm to particular voters. A new trial is set for April.

Democrats have pointed to the midterm election as the latest example of the unfairness of the GOP-drawn districts. Democrats got a majority (54 percent) of the total votes cast for major-party Assembly candidates but fill just 36 percent of the seats in the chamber.

Meanwhile, the next round of redistricting is set for early 2021. After suffocating for a decade with the 2011 maps, Democrats had high hopes in the first days after the election that Evers would block another set of Republican-drawn boundaries.

But nervous Democrats fear Republicans might take steps to remove or weaken the governor’s power in the redistricting process.

“There’s just about anything you can do if you really want to,” U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, said earlier this month. “I’m just concerned. I’m watching everything. It’s just the wrong thing to do. You already have gerrymandered the state enough that you have all of the seats that you could possibly want.”

Republican leaders have said they don’t plan on tinkering with redistricting when they return in December for a lame-duck session to advance their priorities and take some power away from Evers before he takes office. But they haven’t released their proposal, fueling concerns among Democrats.

Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz asked the Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau this month whether a redistricting plan can take effect without legislation. The bureau’s legal services manager, Joseph Kreye, responded with a memo saying any redistricting plan enacted outside of the law-making process “would be inconsistent with historical and legal precedent” and violate the state constitution.

The Wisconsin Constitution requires lawmakers to draw new boundaries following each federal census but doesn’t spell out how.

The state Supreme Court in 1952 ruled redistricting plans need to follow the path of any other bill, meaning the maps are subject to gubernatorial approval or veto. The high court issued another ruling in 1964 that it would be unreasonable to exclude the governor from the process.

Those rulings amount to case law, not statutes. Republicans could send Walker a lame-duck bill that gives legislators the authority to adopt boundaries on their own.

Republicans also could adopt their own boundaries later, let Evers veto them and then sue, arguing the maps should become law regardless. The state Supreme Court could rule that previous case law doesn’t apply and put the maps into effect.

Senate Republican Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos’ spokeswoman, Kit Beyer, both say there has been no talk about changing redistricting. Walker spokeswoman Amy Hasenberg didn’t immediately reply to an email Wednesday.

Removing the governor from redistricting would “fly in the face of the entire history of our state,” UW-Madison political scientist David Canon said.

“This could really backfire if (Republicans) try to do this,” Canon said. “This would become the rallying cry for Democrats around the state.”


Thomas Graning 

President Donald Trump speaks during a rally in Tupelo, Miss., Monday, Nov. 26, 2018. (AP Photo/Thomas Graning)