Milwaukee council committee backs $175,000 settlement in police civil rights case


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A Milwaukee Common Council committee on Monday backed a proposed $175,000 settlement in a civil rights lawsuit claiming police continued to kick and beat a man after he had been subdued and while he was suffering a mental health episode.

The federal lawsuit filed in 2021 by Demetrious Lowe, 30, names nine officers as defendants and claims they either used excessive force or didn't stop colleagues from harming him.

Video of the violent May 2, 2018, arrest spread quickly on social media. The encounter ended with Lowe and four officers going to the hospital for injuries, suspension and administrative duty orders for officers, and an internal affairs investigation, the Journal Sentinel previously reported.

Lowe's attorney, Julius Andriusis, told the Journal Sentinel on Monday that the proposed settlement is fair, and he thought his client would feel vindicated and compensated for his injuries by its passage.

Over the years, the city has paid millions of dollars to settle claims over police misconduct. Last year alone, city officials approved a $450,000 settlement with a bystander who was shot by a Milwaukee police officer in September 2019 and a $650,000 settlement with an unarmed man who was permanently injured when police shot him in 2017.

Sum includes attorney's fees

The $175,000 settlement includes attorney's fees and costs, according to a letter to the council from City Attorney Tearman Spencer.

"Because of the unpredictability of a trial, and the city's risk for exposure to compensatory and punitive damages, as well as additional attorney fees and costs, we recommend that this matter be settled for that amount," Spencer wrote.

The committee recommended the settlement with one objection from Ald. Michael Murphy and without discussion.

The council is expected to take up the settlement at its Feb. 7 meeting.

Lawsuit claims Fourth, 14th Amendment rights violated

Lowe's family had noticed he had been acting differently for about a week before the encounter with police and had scheduled medical appointments for him, according to a complaint filed in the case.

He believed someone had surreptitiously given him a drug, and that evening he experienced "a full-blown psychological episode" in which he could not understand his actions.

Police responded to more than one call to West Medford Avenue, including for someone who had kicked in a door and a female screaming for help, court records from the city state.

Three officers approached Lowe and ordered him to stop in an attempt to arrest him, but he moved away from them. He flailed when officers tried to grab his arms and punched in the face an officer who had pepper sprayed him, according to court records.

He then ran and the officers followed. When they caught up, one hit him with an expandable baton, prompting Lowe to hit the officer in the face and knock him to the ground.

The six other officers then arrived and helped to subdue him. One officer used a taser, which allowed the remaining officers to bring Lowe to the ground, court records state.

Lowe's complaint states that he was no longer resisting or posing a threat when the officers "continued to intentionally and/or recklessly" kick him, hit him with a baton and punch him.

The officers' use of force "was objectively unreasonable and punitive after the plaintiff stopped resisting and a reasonable police officer would not have kept using physical force after the plaintiff was no longer moving and/or offered no continued resistance," an amended complaint states.

The city in a court document responding to the complaint denied that officers continued to use force after Lowe had stopped moving or resisting.

Lowe's lawsuit claims police violated his Fourth Amendmentright not to be subjected to excessive force and his 14th Amendment right to bodily integrity.

All but one of the nine officers named as defendants remain employed with the Police Department, according to city records.

Michael Mattioli resigned in September 2020, months after he was charged in the off-duty death of Joel Acevedo at Mattioli's home earlier that year. A trial in the case is scheduled for June, according to court records.

The other named defendants are Donald Gaglione Jr., Brandon Rutherford, Peter Hauser, Daniel Sutyak, Daniel Pierce, Bradley Nickel, Robert Guetchidjian, and Andrew L. Langer.

In a separate court case stemming from the encounter with police, Lowe was charged with three felony counts of battery to a law enforcement officer.

He was found not guilty due to mental disease or defect, according to court records. That means he was found guilty of committing the crimes that were charged but was not legally responsible because of his mental condition, court records state.

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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Milwaukee committee backs $175k settlement in police civil rights case