Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Sterling Brown’s lawyer calls foul on city’s $400,000 settlement offer

- Bruce Vielmetti

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 offer 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 inflated as leverage to persuade Brown to take the offer.

Attorney Mark Thomsen said the offer is particular­ly insulting because, he asserts, discovery in the case has clearly shown the city knew from the get-go that officers had acted improperly and violated Brown’s rights.

“Defendants should never be rewarded for asserting meritless defenses while boldly inflating 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 officers involved from any liability, according to Thomsen’s motion. No trial date has been set, but certain motions must be filed 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 offer 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 filed.”

In a statement in response to Brown’s motion, the City Attorney’s office said the filing “misses the mark in two significant ways.” It notes the offer was never filed with the court. “There’s nothing to strike,” it said.

It also disputes Thomsen’s characteri­zation about the sincerity and reasonable­ness of the offer, which the city hoped would bring a just end to the dispute.

“Just rehashing any error by the officers 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 officers have made tremendous efforts to improve police-community relations.”

How the incident unfolded

On Jan. 26, 2018, about 2 a.m., an officer 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 officer called for assistance and the situation got increasing­ly tense as more officers arrived.

Officers threw Brown to the ground and stunned him with a Taser, video shows.

Brown was never charged or cited. Police Chief Alfonso Morales fired Officer 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 offered only a fraction of $400,000 to settle that case. His client, Jimmy Harris, had been stopped because officers 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 handcuffed 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 officers injure one of its own citizens.”

Harris’ case is set for trial this month.

 ?? ASSOCIATED PRESS ?? Police camera footage released by the Milwaukee Police Department shows NBA Bucks guard Sterling Brown as he talks to police.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Police camera footage released by the Milwaukee Police Department shows NBA Bucks guard Sterling Brown as he talks to police.

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