Compiled by MCJ Staff
Four Milwaukee police officers were charged Tuesday with felonies related to illegally strip searching and sexually assaulting nearly a dozen people over a two-year span.
Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm charged Michael Vagnini with 25 counts, including conducting an illegal strip search, misconduct in office, sexual assault and conducting an illegal body cavity search.
The most serious charge against Vagnini – second-degree sexual assault – carries a maximum penalty of 25 years in prison and 15 years on supervision.
Chisholm also charged Jeffrey Dollhopf with conducting an illegal strip search, conducting an illegal body cavity search and two counts of misconduct in public office; Brian Kozelek with conducting an illegal strip search and misconduct in public office; and Jacob Knight with conducting an illegal body cavity search and misconduct in public office.
The charges in the strip-search case resulted from dozens of citizens complaints and an investigation in District 5 that began in March when the police department notified the district attorney’s office of the allegations.
A lengthy criminal complaint details case after case where officers conducted searches of men’s anal and scrotal areas. The complaint details incidents where Vagini, the primary suspect, frequently inserted his fingers into suspects’ rectums, causing rectal damage and bleeding.
State law and police procedures prohibit officers from conducting cavity searches. Only medical personnel are allowed to perform them, and police must first obtain a search warrant.
Community leaders and public officials vocalized their concern for the safety of the community, given the latest police misconduct.
Said Common Council President Willie Hines: “While it is always disappointing to see an officer of the law charged with an abuse of office, I am heartened and relieved to see that four Milwaukee Police officers are being charged with carrying out alleged illegal strip searches against citizens in our city.”
Adding: “What is needed now is a quick and thorough prosecution of the four officers who are charged, and for those found guilty of having committed crimes to be held accountable for their actions.”
Like Hines, State Sen. Lena Taylor said the mere step of charging the officers with felonies is not enough. “This one step cannot replace the need for greater accountability and reform,” she said.
In a statement released Wednesday, members of the Common Council requested that the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Wisconsin conduct a general federal investigation into the entire department.
“The public release of further details about these alleged crimes is critical to maintaining the accountability our constituents demand,” they said.
The charges come at a time when Police Chief Edward Flynn is under intense scrutiny for his judgment and handling of the Derek Williams and Darius Simmons cases. Williams’ death while in police custody has sparked widespread outrage, while the community remains appalled by the treatment of Simmons’ mother after he was gunned down by an elderly neighbor.
Community members have called for Flynn to resign or be fired.