City Officials weigh in on Fire and Police Commission’s decision to reinstate officer

Reacting to the Fire and Police Commission’s decision to reinstate Milwaukee police officer, Richard Schoen several city officials expressed their opposition to the move.

Common Council president Willie L. Hines, Jr. released the following statement:

“I am deeply troubled by the Fire and Police Commission’s inexplicable decision Monday to reinstate the employment of Police Officer Richard Schoen, who was fired by Chief Edward Flynn following an excessive force case. I thought Chief Flynn’s response was appropriate and that the officer’s actions warranted termination.

“Chief Flynn, a police professional, clearly recognized that the officer’s use of force was excessive, inappropriate and in violation of standard operating procedure. I myself was appalled when I watched the squad car video that shows Officer Schoen pull Ms. Jeanine Tracy by the hair and deliver several blows to her head while she was handcuffed in the back seat. Ms. Tracy was by no means a threat to Officer Schoen, herself or anyone else. This is a case where an officer, in a rage, assaulted a defenseless citizen.

“Officer Schoen’s actions are a stain on the reputation shared by the vast majority of police officers, who play by the book and do their jobs with the greatest level of professionalism.

“But even more troubling is the decision by the Fire and Police Commission to replace Officer Schoen’s termination with a 60-day suspension. Their failure to uphold Chief Flynn’s discipline gives the impression that they sanction his assault on Ms. Tracy. Behavior like Officer Schoen’s cannot be condoned or embraced. This is not a case where an officer adhered to policy and simply made a bad judgment call. When an officer compromises the honor or his or her badge and blatantly violates police protocol, he or she must be terminated.

“Police officers are not above the law and must be held accountable for their actions. By terminating Officer Schoen, Chief Flynn had demonstrated just that. The Fire and Police Commission decision to reinstate Officer Schoen sends a frightening message to the community and sets a dangerous precedent for the Milwaukee Police Department, and should absolutely be corrected.”

Mayor Tom Barrett also expressed in a statment: “I strongly disagree with the decision rendered by the Fire and Police Commission’s Disciplinary Appeals Panel regarding Officer Richard Schoen and the use of excessive force.

“While in agreement that Officer Schoen did, in fact, employ excessive force tactics, the Panel voted 2-1 to suspend Officer Schoen for 60 days without pay rather than uphold Chief Flynn’s decision to terminate Officer Schoen’s employment with the Milwaukee Police Department.

“I fully appreciate the commitment and stress associated with accepting an appointment to the Fire and Police Commission. Disciplinary deliberations are difficult and I commend the Commission members for their respect of due process issues.

“That being said, I believe the action the Panel took sends the entirely wrong message to members of the Police Department and to the community. In an interview following the hearing Officer Schoen stated, ‘I still feel I was somewhat justified.’ Obviously, Officer Schoen did not get the message the 60 day suspension was intended to deliver.”

Alderwoman Milele Coggs expressed her position as well with the following: “I may not agree with Chief Flynn on everything, but I believe he was right when he chose to fire Police Officer Richard Schoen for excessive force. Any citizen watching the dash cam video footage showing Officer Schoen punching a woman in the face while she was handcuffed in the back of a squad car would be horrified. The attack, coupled with the officer’s arrogant and clueless lack of regret for his actions, brings about the question as to why he was reinstated.

“With every disciplinary decision that is made as it relates to officers, a message is made clear to the community in terms of how much value is placed on their well being and safety. The viciousness that Officer Schoen showed in the attack — along with his obvious lack of remorse — makes me very concerned that next time his attack will be much worse than a mere punch. The ability to control one’s emotions in high stress situations is a critical skill needed for good policing. Yesterday’s decision by the Fire and Police Commission to reinstate Officer Schoen further brings into question the appropriateness of such a body making disciplinary decisions about our police officers. Our commission is the only one structured like it in the nation, and I believe it is out of tune with the community.

“Consider this: Out of approximately 300 citizen complaints filed with the Fire and Police Commission against Milwaukee officers last year, only one resulted in disciplinary action against an officer. I believe it may be time to either restructure or eliminate the commission, and the laws that govern its existence.

“Officers are sworn to protect and serve, and any officer who loses sight of this should be disciplined accordingly. Mr. Schoen should have lost his ability to serve as an officer in the Milwaukee Police Department when he allowed his anger and rage to outweigh his commitment to his sworn oath.”

Disciplinary hearings generally are heard by panels of three commissioners. Schoen’s case was decided by Richard Cox, executive director of Neighborhood House, a social service agency that assists urban families; Paio Lor, program coordinator and consultant for Hmong ABC Radio in Milwaukee; and Michael O’Hear, a professor and associate dean for research at Marquette University’s law school.

Cox voted to fire Schoen. Lor and O’Hear voted for a 60-day suspension, according to Tobin.