A Milwaukee police officer stepped on NBA player Sterling Brown’s ankle during his arrest and others mocked any potential civil rights complaint he might make, according to bodycam footage reviewed by CNN
Brown’s lawyer, Mark Thomsen, intends to file a lawsuit against the Milwaukee Police Department this week, he told CNN. Demanding transparency and accountability, 10 of the 15 aldermen on the Milwaukee Common Council expressed concern Tuesday that the new footage was not included among video shared with the Council two months ago.
The footage was obtained approximately two weeks after the department released another video showing how quickly the situation escalated when an officer confronted the Milwaukee Bucks rookie and Maywood, Illinois, native for parking across two handicapped spots at a drugstore.
In the original footage from January 26, Brown, who was 22 at the time, and an officer approach each other simultaneously. While asking for Brown’s driver’s license, the policeman tells Brown to back up and lightly shoves him immediately upon issuing the command. After Brown tells the officer repeatedly not to touch him, the officer calls for backup, prompting at least three more squad cars and several more police to rush to the scene.
The initial police report described Brown as aggressive, but when the first batch of footage was released last month, Chief Alfonso Morales, apologized for the officers’ behavior, saying they behaved “inappropriately.” Mayor Tom Barrett said, “No citizen should be treated this way.”
Two sergeants were suspended without pay — for 10 and 15 days, respectively — for “failing to be a role model for professional police service,” while another officer was suspended for two days for “failing to treat a member of the public with courtesy and professionalism.” Eight others will receive remedial training in professional communications.
The department has not identified the officers involved, despite local media reporting their names.
The Milwaukee Police Association did not return a phone call or email seeking comment but has previously defended the officers. After the first footage was released, the union called use of force a “necessary component of policing” and said anyone taking issue with a stop should cooperate with police and file a complaint later.
‘Y’all surrounding me for what?’
The new footage shows the incident from multiple bodycams, perched on the shoulders of officers who arrived on the scene after the first officer called for backup at around 2 a.m. The officer calls for backup after an exchange that lasts a few seconds, during which Brown asks, “What’s the issue?” and twice tells the officer not to touch him.
As the scream of a police SUV’s siren gets louder, Brown questions what they’re waiting on.
“We’re going to figure out what we’re going to do — whether you’re going to get tickets, whatever,” the officer responds.
“You can’t do that by yourself?” Brown replies.
Soon, there are three more police vehicles in the drugstore parking lot. The officer on the scene tells at least one car arriving in the parking lot that he needed only one backup officer, but the officer exits the car anyway.
At least six officers surround Brown. While the new footage shows multiple angles of the encounter, it’s difficult to determine which officers are speaking at times. Some officers’ voices are more audible on certain bodycams.
The scene grows testy. One officer asks rhetorically, “Where’s your handicapped sticker?” Another threatens to have Brown’s Mercedes towed. Through it all, Brown asks repeatedly, “Y’all surrounding me for what?”
One of the officers tells Brown to take his hands out of his pockets. When he doesn’t do it immediately, several officers frantically repeat the command and Brown says, “Relax. Hold on. I got stuff in my hands. You want me to drop … ”
He doesn’t finish his question. Several of the officers begin wrestling him to the ground.
“On the ground! Get down!” an officer yells.
Brown’s passenger tells him, “Baby, just get down! Just get down! Just get down!”
The commotion isn’t clear from any of the bodycam angles. Brown tells an officer, “Get your hands … Get your hands off my neck.” An officer yells, “Tase him! Tase him! Taser! Taser! Taser!”
The zap of the Taser can be heard, and Brown groans. Officers begin searching him. Brown’s legs lie listlessly on the ground. A wire connects the prongs in Brown’s back to the Taser that remains in one of the officer’s hands.
Clearly subdued, Brown asks several times, “All this for what?”
Stepping on his ankle
The bodycams show one of the officers stepping on Brown’s ankle for an extended period of time, despite his legs remaining motionless after the Taser is deployed.
“S**t is crazy,” Brown says. “C’mon, man. You’re stepping on my ankle for what?”
“So you don’t kick us,” the officer replies.
“I ain’t got no reason to kick y’all, man,” Brown says.
Only then does one of the officers realize who Brown is. He tells Brown he remembers his name, and Brown responds that he wants every one of the officers’ names on the incident report. One of them assures him they will be.
Brown remains composed throughout the encounter, never raising his voice. His tone is calm even as he questions the level of force officers employed.
“I know exactly which one of y’all motherf*****s kicked me for no reason. Kneed me in my s**t for no reason. All y’all. The initial police officer pushed me for no reason,” he says.
“I asked you to step back,” the officer says.
“Naw, I ain’t trying to hear that s**t,” Brown retorts. “You right. It’ll be all on camera. The bald-headed motherf***** who kneed me in my s**t. Y’all all some bad guys without…” The end of his sentence is inaudible. Someone belches off-camera.
Paramedics arrive, and officers inform Brown he must go to the hospital because he’s been tased. As they prepare to put him in the ambulance, someone — it’s not clear if it’s a policeman or paramedic — tells Brown, “I hope you guys make the playoffs. I like the Bucks.”
Brown replies, “I hope you come to a game.”
‘It’s going to be a … media firestorm’
Officers help him off the ground. Some seem to take a friendlier tone with him, but one tells him, “I don’t follow the Bucks, so I didn’t recognize you. I didn’t recognize your famous name.”
It’s one of many times officers appear to mock Brown. At one point, away from the incident, an officer tells another policeman sitting in his car that “the bureau” is responding to the scene. It’s not clear which bureau he means, but he says, “We’re trying to protect our town.”
“Because he plays for the Bucks, if he makes a f***ing complaint it’s going to be a f***ing media firestorm,” he says.
“Oh yeah,” another officer replies.
“And then any little f***ing thing that goes wrong is going to be,” the officer switches to a high-pitched voice, “Oh, the police department is all racist (inaudible) blah, blah, blah.”
Well after the altercation is over and Brown is in custody, the officer who initiated the stop continues his back-and-forth with Brown over whose actions exacerbated the situation.
“I asked you to move back. You didn’t,” he says.
“You didn’t have to touch. You initially touched me,” Brown replies.
“You’re right. I did, because you were right in my grill.”
“Nah. Because I walked out to my car and you walked up on me.”
City leaders question initial police report
Away from Brown, the same officer paints himself as innocent, claiming to fellow officers that Brown became aggressive.
“I was standing by his door. I was like, ‘Hey, where’s he at?’ He comes out and he’s right up on me. I’m like, ‘Hey, step back,’ and he wouldn’t do it. So I gave him a little push and then s**t got elevated. I’m like, ‘All right, get me another squad here.’ It could’ve been simple.”
In an exchange with another officer, he says, “If the guy hadn’t been such a d**k, it would’ve just been, ‘Bye, have a nice day.’ But then I thought, ‘OK, he’s being an ass; he’s hiding something.'”
According to a police report obtained by CNN affiliate WISN, the officer described Brown as “very aggressive,” an assertion that didn’t seem to jibe with the findings of an investigation into the matter.
Milwaukee police were so concerned about the initial release of bodycam footage last month that, before its release, Assistant Police Chief Michael Brunson told parishioners of a Milwaukee church that the department was bracing for backlash.
“There’s going to be a video that’s going to come out soon, in the next couple of weeks, involving the department,” he said, according to CNN affiliate WITI. “I’m going to be honest with you, we’re going to need your support during the challenges.”
Brown, who sports reporters said had a bruise and a scab on his face before a game that night against the Brooklyn Nets, was issued a parking ticket but was not criminally charged. In a statement last month, he decried “racism towards the minority community, the abuse of power and the lack of accountability for officers involved.”
Milwaukee police conducted an internal affairs investigation after Brown’s arrest, while the police union defended the officers.
“Inevitably every Use of Force will be scrutinized and often opinion gets in the way of fact,” the Milwaukee Police Association statement said. “Unfortunately, society and local leaders only take issue when the situation is sensational, or the individual is of prominence. Our officers are routinely injured during Use of Force applications; rarely is there an outcry of support from civic leadership.”
In their Tuesday letter demanding accountability, the 10 aldermen called for an “audit of all activity associated with the incident,” the results of which should be presented in an open session of the Common Council.
“It is our continued commitment that there be complete transparency around this issue along with swift and appropriate action to all those involved who violated MPD policies and procedures,” the letter said.