MILWAUKEE (AP) — Prosecutors can proceed with a case against four Milwaukee police officers charged with conducting illegal strip searches of suspects, a judge ruled Friday.
Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Jeffrey Wagner heard about three hours of testimony from Milwaukee police detective Justin Carloni, who recapped testimony that nine alleged victims gave at secret proceedings that led to the charges last month. The judge decided that prosecutors had sufficient probable cause to move forward with their case.
According to the criminal complaint, several men alleged that Officer Michael Vagnini stopped them and performed a cavity search, saying he was looking for drugs. Vagnini is charged with 25 counts, including conducting an illegal strip search, misconduct in office, sexual assault and conducting an illegal body cavity search.
State law and police procedures prohibit officers from conducting body cavity searches. Only medical personnel are allowed to perform them, and police must first obtain a search warrant.
Attorneys for the other officers argued Friday that the charges should be dismissed because what their clients are accused of doing — sometimes just being present at searches — doesn’t rise to the threshold of party-to-a-crime liability.
District Attorney John Chisholm argued that the officers’ mere presence, on duty, reasserted to the suspects that they were not free to leave and had to comply with the searches.
The judge denied the motions to dismiss the complaint, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. The four officers remain on paid leave. Arraignment is set for Nov. 15.
The complaint alleges that the illegal searches took place over a two-year period, between February 2010 and February 2012.
The other officers accused are Jeffrey Dollhopf, who is charged with conducting an illegal strip search, conducting an illegal body cavity search and two counts of misconduct in public office; Brian Kozelek, charged with conducting an illegal strip search and misconduct in public office; and Jacob Knight, who is facing charges of conducting an illegal body cavity search and misconduct in public office.
Jonathan Safran, an attorney for some of the alleged victims, attended Friday’s hearing. Safran said his clients were always worried they would not be believed, and that they’ll be encouraged the judge thought the complaint was credible enough for the case to go forward.
Information from: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, http://www.jsonline.com