A Milwaukee County sheriff’s deputy was shot multiple times early Wednesday during a traffic stop investigation, beginning a series of emergency alerts to cellphones throughout the county that only ended when authorities confirmed the suspected gunman had killed himself.
The 26-year-old deputy was shot in his arms and his torso, Sheriff Earnell Lucas said. He was taken to Froedtert Hospital for treatment and his injuries do not appear to be life-threatening, the sheriff said.
The encounter began when another deputy pulled over a driver for a registration violation shortly after 2 a.m. near West Adler and South 68th streets, just south of Interstate 94.
That deputy requested backup and as others were arriving, the driver and passenger ran from the vehicle. The driver was quickly arrested near the I-94 on-ramp at South 68th Street, Lucas said.
Deputies and West Allis police officers continued searching for the passenger. About 3 a.m. a deputy saw a man climb out of a garbage bin near West Adler and South 64th streets — a man later determined not to have been the passenger from the traffic stop.
The sighting of the man led law enforcement to refocus their search on that area of the Johnson's Woods neighborhood. Soon after, they encountered a man near West Dixon and South 63rd streets. When he was approached by a deputy, he drew a gun and fired multiple times, Lucas said.
The gunman ran from the shooting scene, prompting the first emergency alert shortly before 4 a.m. which told residents to “shelter in place” because an armed and dangerous suspect was sought, and to call 911 if they saw anyone suspicious.
Shortly after the alert, the sheriff’s office quickly confirmed on social media that a deputy had been injured in a shooting, connecting the two incidents.
Deputies and officers continued their search of the area early Wednesday and found a man “crouching down” behind a vehicle in the area of South 60th and West Main streets, Lucas said.
Law enforcement “issued commands for the subject to cooperate,” Lucas said. "Subsequently, the deputies and officers heard a single shot and found the subject lying on the ground from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.”
Soon after 5 a.m. Wednesday, the Milwaukee County Medical Examiner’s Office had confirmed to media outlets that their investigators were responding to that area for a death investigation.
But it took time for the sheriff's office to confirm the 19-year-old man who had died by suicide was believed to be the suspected shooter of the deputy — so the shelter in place alert remained active throughout the morning, ending about 11:30 a.m.
The Milwaukee Police Department is investigating the man's suicide. The sheriff said he did not believe any deputies fired their guns during the incident, but that the matter remained under investigation.
As of late Wednesday, no further information had been provided about the man who died. The driver and passenger who ran from the vehicle have been arrested. Charges against the two men, ages 21 and 22, are pending, according to the sheriff's office.
Two MPS schools move to virtual; emergency alerts sent 'out of an abundance of caution'
The situation prompted two nearby Milwaukee Public Schools to have virtual instead of in-person classes on Wednesday, and led to three emergency alerts sent to every cellphone in Milwaukee County.
The first, sent shortly before 4 a.m., asked people to shelter in place. A second alert, sent shortly before 11:30 a.m., was a form message apparently sent in error. A corrected alert came through minutes later, informing the public that the shelter-in-place order was lifted.
Milwaukee County is drawing some attention for these alerts today, which went to many residents. pic.twitter.com/QuQ4quvTk9
— Sophie Carson (@SCarson_News) January 26, 2022
The alerts' wide reach and disruptive nature raised some criticism among residents who did not live near the scene of the shooting in the Johnson's Woods neighborhood — particularly because the shooting suspect had run away on foot, not in a vehicle.
The Milwaukee County Office of Emergency Management defended sending the alerts in a statement.
"Given the incident occurred in the early morning, just hours before school children and other residents would be starting their morning commutes, the Office of Emergency Management sent the message to the entire County out of an abundance of caution," the officer's director, Cassandra Libal, said in a news release.
The technology does not allow to send alerts targeted to certain neighborhoods, Libal said.
"This is a FEMA regulated program and we are working with them and our software vendor to address the issue," she said.
Libal said the office does not intend to send alerts to phones outside Milwaukee County, but they might go to other area residents' phones because of the locations of cell towers.
The office sends the alert to cell towers, which then ping phones in their vicinity.
County Supervisor Shawn Rolland said Wednesday afternoon he has asked for a report on the system for the next County Board meeting.
"I don’t think anyone minds receiving these notifications during an emergency so long as the messages are relevant and geotargeted more precisely," Rolland said on Twitter, in response to constituents' questions. "Looking forward to that conversation."
Mayor says law enforcement officers work in 'dangerous conditions'
In a statement, Acting Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson encouraged people to reach out to police with information about the shooting and praised law enforcement, wishing the injured deputy a "speedy and full recovery."
“His courageous actions early this morning deserve our deepest gratitude," said Johnson, adding: “I also offer my appreciation to other members of law enforcement. They are working to make our community safer, often under difficult and dangerous conditions."
Ald. Michael Murphy, who represents the area, also thanked law enforcement and sought to reassure residents.
"It truly was a case where the location of the traffic stop dictated where the incident would likely unfold, a normally quiet and peaceful neighborhood," he said in a news release.
The shooting comes less than a day after Lucas and others paid tribute to fallen Deputy David Demos on the 25th anniversary of his death. Demos was killed by a drunken driver who crashed into him while he was helping another driver on I-94.
The sheriff's office has named its highest honor for him — the David Demos Award — recognizing those for commitment duty, honor and service.
It's also the second time in two weeks that a law enforcement officer has been shot in Milwaukee. An off-duty Milwaukee police detective was shot and injured when he intervened in an attempted carjacking in the city's Third Ward.
Three people have been charged in that shooting and two are in custody. The suspected shooter, Keasean J. Ellis-Brown, who has been charged with attempted first-degree intentional homicide, remains at large and the FBI has offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to his arrest.
Elliot Hughes of the Journal Sentinel staff contributed to this report.
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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Suspect in Milwaukee County deputy shooting kills self, sheriff says