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Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Was Hmong Driver’s MPD Beating Justified?

Koua Moua’s arrest sparks questions

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Before the investigations were completed, Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn declared that Officer Kelly Parker was justified in beating Koua Moua while arresting him for suspicion of driving while intoxicated. In an unprecedented move, Flynn called a press conference to release draft reports, air “911” calls made about the incident and denounce Hmong community leaders for their outrage over the beating.

But do the facts in the case support Flynn’s strong words? Not entirely, says Moua’s attorney, Alan Eisenberg, after reviewing the police reports for the Feb. 17-18 incident. Eisenberg, along with leaders of the Hmong American Friendship Association and the Shee Yee Community, say that Officer Parker used excessive force when arresting Moua on Feb. 17.

Eisenberg has filed a claim for damages with the city, asking for $10 million for Moua. He has also filed a claim with the Fire and Police Commission, seeking some sort of disciplinary action toward Parker. Eisenberg says that Moua’s beating is a clear-cut case of police brutality, and claims that it resembles the beating of Frank Jude Jr. in 2004. Eisenberg says Moua, 40, suffers from a brain concussion, a broken nose and multiple facial injuries.

Eisenberg says it’s unprecedented for a police chief to exonerate one of his men before investigations are complete. The police department is conducting an internal investigation, but Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm has asked the state Department of Justice to investigate the MPD’s handling of the case. Investigations may also be pending in other legal forums.

The Shepherd attempted to reach Flynn to discuss the case, but a department spokesman said that Flynn would not be made available for an interview before press time. MPD spokeswoman Anne E. Schwartz has been out of town since last week. Schwartz left a voice message on Monday saying that Flynn stands by his words.

Disputing the Events

So what really happened after 10 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 17? Although Flynn is standing by Parker, many questions remain. In fact, documents—some of them released by Flynn himself at the press conference—seem to contradict the MPD version of events.

Here are a few discrepancies: Why did Parker approach Moua? Flynn released a “911” call made to report a “white utility van” driving erratically. But Parker never saw Moua drive; his white truck was parked in a snowbank on 64th Street and Florist Avenue when Parker spotted it. Moua was approaching the truck when the two men encountered each other. Moua’s truck doesn’t quite match the citizen’s description. He drives a 12-ton, 14-foot-long truck. Moua told Detective Branko Stojsavljevic five days after the beating (through an interpreter) that the truck is “difficult to handle and ‘wobbly’ on the streets.”

Did the two exchange words? Parker stated that before the altercation, Moua clearly told him, “Fuck you, write me a ticket.” Yet elsewhere in the reports Moua is described as speaking “slurred broken English.” Moua speaks “very little English,” according to the police reports, yet there is no evidence that Moua was provided a translator at the District 4 police station. Days after the beating, Moua told Detective Stojsavljevic that he wanted to move the truck before speaking to Parker, since he thought the truck was blocking traffic.

Did Moua’s truck drag Parker? Parker alleges that Moua attempted to drive away while Parker was in the truck’s open door, causing Parker to be dragged. Parker was not injured by the truck door and, Eisenberg says, at most he was dragged about a foot. Moua told the detective he wasn’t even aware that Parker was in the open door, since Moua was reaching for some tools that had fallen on the floor of his truck.

How many times did Parker strike Moua? The 6-foot-tall Parker claims that he only hit the unarmed, 5-foot-3 Moua once, with his police radio, while Moua was still in the truck. Flynn told reporters Parker was “fighting for his life.” Parker says he pulled Moua out of the truck, subdued him, called for backup and never hit him again. Parker does not claim that Moua ever struck him.

Yet police documents provide multiple—and contradictory—versions of the beating. On the MPD Use of Force Report dated Feb. 17, Parker’s blow is described as “one focus strike to the face area of Moua,” which caused a broken nose and required 10 stitches beneath Moua’s left eye.

On a Feb. 22 draft Incident Report alleging “aggravated battery/assault/felony battery” by Parker, the beating was described as “A known suspect [Parker] punched the victim in the face four times causing a laceration below the left eye that required stitches to close.”

Moua told the detective that he doesn’t know what happened: “[T]he officer opened the driver’s door and hit him in the face with an unknown object. Moua stated that he then ‘passed out.’ He does not remember how he ended up outside the truck and on the ground. When he regained consciousness, he realized that his face was bleeding.”

Moua was transported by private ambulance to St. Joseph’s Hospital and then sent to the District 4 police station. Did Moua know who hit him? According to documents, Moua believed that the officer who struck him was white. Yet Parker is African American. Eisenberg says this shows that Moua had no idea who hit him.

Was Moua drunk? Moua admitted to drinking earlier on the day of the incident, but not within eight hours prior to his beating by Parker. Yet Parker reported that Moua was “intoxicated.” Another officer reported that there was a half-full vodka bottle in the truck, yet no bottle is inventoried in the police reports.

Indeed, Moua registered a 0.08 blood-alcohol content at the district station after the arrest and was technically intoxicated. Yet that test was given more than six hours after Moua’s arrest, and such tests must be conducted within three hours of an arrest to be admissible in court.

What’s more, Moua did not sign a document showing that he understood that his license was being taken away for drunken driving. In fact, the signature line merely reads: “Unable to sign.” Officer Parker, however, signed the form.

There is no evidence on another form that Moua understood that his license was being taken away. Municipal Court Judge Valarie Hill took away Moua’s license a few days later, on Feb. 20; Moua failed to show up in court because he apparently had no idea that he was being charged with operating under the influence.

But why believe the MPD? The state Department of Transportation conducted its own administrative review of the incident. On March 6, the DOT informed Moua via Eisenberg: “Your privilege to drive a motor vehicle will not be suspended.” The DOT found that the “driver was not correctly identified; the driver did not have a Prohibited Alcohol Concentration; one or more tests were not administered in accordance with Wis. Stats. 343.305; the result of each test did not indicate a Prohibited Alcohol Concentration; [and] probable cause did not exist for the arrest.”

What’s your take? Write: editor@shepex.com.

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