Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Sterling Brown’s lawyer calls foul on city’s $400,000 settlement offer
Lawyers for Sterling Brown, the Milwaukee Bucks player police stunned with a Taser in a Walgreens parking lot last year, asked a judge Tuesday to throw out the city’s offer to settle his false arrest case for $400,000, calling it a bad faith abuse of the litigation process.
Under federal court rules, if Brown were to win damages less than $400,000 at trial, he would be on the hook for the city’s legal fees and costs — expenses Brown’s attorney says the city has purposely inflated as leverage to persuade Brown to take the offer.
Attorney Mark Thomsen said the offer is particularly insulting because, he asserts, discovery in the case has clearly shown the city knew from the get-go that officers had acted improperly and violated Brown’s rights.
“Defendants should never be rewarded for asserting meritless defenses while boldly inflating a Plaintiff ’s litigations costs and fees, only to try to take advantage of serving an offer of judgment that Plaintiff could never accept in true conscience,” the motion reads.
The terms of the deal would also impose the judgment against only the city and save the individual officers involved from any liability, according to Thomsen’s motion. No trial date has been set, but certain motions must be filed by July 2020.
“Public safety is compromised because of how aggressively Defendants work to conceal their misdeeds. This should not be rewarded by this Court,” Thomsen wrote.
When the Common Council approved the $400,000 offer about a month ago, Thomsen raised the same concern, saying then, “I fully anticipate that any settlement that doesn’t include an admission that they violated Mr. Brown’s civil rights will go nowhere. We can’t heal in this city without that.”
The bulk of Thomsen’s 30-page motion details the many facts unearthed via depositions and thousands of pages of discovery that support Brown’s claims. “This pattern of behavior supports one central conclusion: the entire defense on this issue (false arrest) was meritless since before this lawsuit was filed.”
In a statement in response to Brown’s motion, the City Attorney’s office said the filing “misses the mark in two significant ways.” It notes the offer was never filed with the court. “There’s nothing to strike,” it said.
It also disputes Thomsen’s characterization about the sincerity and reasonableness of the offer, which the city hoped would bring a just end to the dispute.
“Just rehashing any error by the officers on the night of the incident does nothing to improve the police department or the city it serves,” the statement read. “The city, its police department, and its officers have made tremendous efforts to improve police-community relations.”
How the incident unfolded
On Jan. 26, 2018, about 2 a.m., an officer doing a business check at the Walgreens near West National Avenue and South 26th Street stopped to question Brown about his car, which was parked across two handicap spots. That officer called for assistance and the situation got increasingly tense as more officers arrived.
Officers threw Brown to the ground and stunned him with a Taser, video shows.
Brown was never charged or cited. Police Chief Alfonso Morales fired Officer Erik Andrade over mocking social media posts he made in the aftermath of the incident.
The lawyer for another man suing the city over his arrest and serious injury noted the city offered only a fraction of $400,000 to settle that case. His client, Jimmy Harris, had been stopped because officers thought his car didn’t match the color on its registration.
Harris, who had recently had rotator cuff surgery, pleaded that he couldn’t put his arm behind his back, but was handcuffed anyway. His attorney, Nate Cade, said Harris was permanently disabled by the arrest, while Brown was able to continue playing NBA basketball.
The disparity in the settlement offers, Cade said, “just proves that the City is more conscious of its image than it is of simply doing the right thing when its officers injure one of its own citizens.”
Harris’ case is set for trial this month.