Milwaukee, WI – A judge ruled Wednesday that former Milwaukee Police Chief Alfonso Morales must be reinstated as head of the law enforcement agency in 45 days unless the city can reach a settlement with his lawyers.
“If you can’t get it settled within the 45 days, then my order goes into effect,” Milwaukee County Judge Christopher Foley warned at the end of a virtual hearing on May 19, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.
“Put him back in office, make him the chief, and away we go,” Foley added.
The hearing came after attorneys for former Chief Morales accused the city of dragging its feet on negotiations following Foley’s December of 2020 ruling that that the Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission (FPC) had denied the chief due process when they demoted him to captain.
Milwaukee City Attorney Tearman Spencer admitted a month before that the city had demoted the chief improperly when they reduced his rank to captain over his department’s response to riots in the city.
Attorneys for the former police chief asked the judge to enforce his reinstatement order in April because of the city’s “months-long refusal to follow this Court’s order and reinstate Morales or, alternatively, propose a financial settlement and buy-out the remainder of his contract,” the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.
Nate Cade, an attorney representing the city and the FPC, told the judge that former Chief Morales’ decision to retire after he was demoted to captain prevented him from being reinstated as chief.
Cade argued that Foley didn’t have the authority to reinstate Chief Morales after his retirement, that the city couldn’t do it under the city charter, and that reinstating the former chief could jeopardize the tax status of the city’s retirement plan with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.
But Foley didn’t buy any of those excuses.
“Whatever problems there may be with the IRS, whatever problems there may be with the retirement system, I didn’t create those problems. The Fire and Police Commission created those problems by doing what they did,” the judge said.
Former Chief Morales, who was the Milwaukee Police Department’s top cop for three-and-a-half years, had been at odds with the FPC since the commission chair demanded that he fire the officer who arrested Milwaukee Bucks player Sterling Brown in 2018, the Wisconsin State Journal reported.
In August of 2020, FPC commissioners took exception to the Milwaukee Police Department’s use of teargas to disperse rioters.
At the same time, the commissioners began asking questions about allegations of racism in the policing of the city’s black communities, the Wisconsin State Journal reported.
“His conduct is unbecoming, filled with ethical lapses and flawed decisions, making it inconsistent with someone who has the privilege of leading the Milwaukee Police Department,” FPC Commissioner Raymond Robakowski said at the time.
The commissioners named Milwaukee Assistant Police Chief Michael J. Brunson Sr. to step in as acting chief, the Wisconsin State Journal reported.
On Dec. 17, 2020 the FPC chose Jeffrey Norman to become the next acting chief of the Milwaukee police because Acting Chief Brunson was retiring.
The settlement with former Chief Morales is expected to cost the city a fortune and there has been a lot internal finger-pointing between the City Attorney’s Office and the FPC, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.
The judge said he didn’t expect that the former police chief wanted to go back to heading the department given the situation, but said he was entitled to do so.
Raymond Dall’Osto, an attorney for former Chief Morales, said his client has been ready to get back to work for months, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.
“We tried mightily over a number of months to move the ball forward, and it’s squarely in the city’s court to do so,” Dall’Osto said.
He said the city has never made a settlement offer to former Chief Morales, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.
“He is reinstated as of today, and I guess the city has the option of either talking or filing an appeal,” Dall’Osto said.
The attorney also noted that the city had never appealed the judge’s December reinstatement order, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.