Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Former Milwaukee Police Chief Alfonso Morales is taking the first step to filing a lawsuit against the city for more than half a million dollars after the Fire and Police Commission demoted him to captain earlier this month.
Morales filed the claim Thursday afternoon, seeking a total of $625,000 for breach of contract and damages for denial of due process and loss of reputation.
Griselda Aldrete, the outgoing executive director of the Fire and Police Commission, did not immediately return a request for comment Thursday.
Morales was demoted to captain on Aug. 6, more than two weeks after the commission issued 18 controversial directives to him with the threat of termination or discipline if he did not comply.
The demotion was a unanimous decision from the seven-member commission, despite none of them accusing Morales of failing on any of those directives, saying instead he failed the city and had been untruthful.
Morales then filed for retirement the following week. His lawyer, Franklyn Gimbel, said he also intends to file for a judicial review of the Fire and Police Commission’s actions in Milwaukee County Circuit Court.
In retirement, Morales is eligible to receive up to $104,600 in yearly pension payments, according to city records.
The damages claim also echoes a public allegation made earlier by Gimbel — that Aldrete and a member of the commission approached a supervisory officer at MPD sometime prior to July 7 and informed him he was a candidate to succeed Morales as chief after the commission removed him. Gimbel has refused to identify the officer.
Two law enforcement sources have told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel the officer was Inspector Terrence Gordon and said Gordon was approached by city officials. The sources asked to remain unnamed because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the situation.
A police spokesperson declined to make Gordon available for an interview Thursday.
Morales’ claim also argues the commission denied his due process by failing to provide specific notice of the charges against him and not providing him a fair hearing with a chance to respond.
During the Aug. 6 meeting in which he was demoted, the commission did not allow Morales or Gimbel a chance to speak.
The claim also makes a case for a breach of contract. Upon his reappointment as chief in December 2019, Morales was given a one-page, two-paragraph document, obtained by the Journal Sentinel, signed by all seven commissioners that confirms his term as chief was to last four years.
On Aug. 14, the Journal Sentinel submitted an open records request to the Fire and Police Commission for Morales’ most recent employment contract. On Monday, the office said it had no such records.
After Morales’ demotion, the Fire and Police Commission unanimously voted Michael Brunson Sr., as acting chief, following the chain of command. He is expected to present his command staff to the commission next week after receiving an extension. The commission has a special meeting scheduled for Aug. 27.
The commission said it is conducting a nationwide search for its next chief, with an application deadline of Sept. 11.
Two members from Morales’ command staff, Assistant Chief Regina Howard and Inspector Alex Ramirez, have since retired.
The commission is one of the oldest and most powerful civilian oversight boards of police and fire departments in the country. Its responsibilities include recruiting and testing police and fire employees for hiring and promotion.
Tension with the commission and Morales had been building for months prior to the directives being issued. In July, he said the commission was setting him up to fail by canceling a series of meetings that delayed routine tasks. He specifically said he had no confidence in Steven DeVougas, who was then the chair of the commission.
For the last year, DeVougas has been embroiled in an ethics controversy after it was revealed he accompanied prominent real estate developer Kalan Haywood Sr., to a police interview about a sexual assault allegation made against him. Haywood has denied the allegation and has not been charged.
The presence of DeVougas, a lawyer who has worked as corporate counsel for Haywood’s business, raised conflict of interest concerns because DeVougas was the head of the police department’s oversight body at the time.
An independent investigation found DeVougas likely violated the city’s ethics codes and lied about representing Haywood in a criminal defense capacity in that interview. He remains on the commission, despite calls to resign from Mayor Tom Barrett. His term as chair ended minutes after Morales’ demotion on Aug. 6.
Ashley Luthern of the Journal Sentinel staff contributed to this report. Reach out to Elliot Hughes at firstname.lastname@example.org or 414-704-8958. Follow him on Twitter @elliothughes12.