“No one should be punished for calling the police. No one should be punished for petitioning their government. No one should be punished for exercising their 1st Amendment rights. Yet, for businesses in the city of Milwaukee, this is precisely what happens when they dare ask their government for help,” said Attorney Emil Ovbiagele, managing partner of OVB Consulting, S.C.
According to Ovbiagele, in certain applications, this ordinance effectively punishes property owners for utilizing emergency services. Calling the police 2-3 times within a year could result in their property being labeled as a “nuisance,” potentially leading to the revocation of business licenses
“It has also been used as a tool by Alders to hyperfocus on businesses they want to penalize,” Ovbiagele said during an interview with the Wisconsin Law Journal.
“I have dealt with situations where businesses and properties have been designated nuisances by the police at the urgings of an alderperson,” Ovbiagele noted.
“This policy not only undermines the First Amendment right to petition our government for help but also disproportionately impacts minority and immigrant-owned businesses, contributing to a cycle of systemic inequality. We believe that the public has the right to be informed about the ways in which this ordinance is being applied and the repercussions it has on the community fabric,” Ovbiagele added.
According to a copy of the complaint obtained by the Wisconsin law Journal, Ovbiagele’s firm represents Kool Petroleums Inc. and Kulwant Dhillon, plaintiffs in the matter. On May 3, 2023, the Milwaukee Police Department sent plaintiffs a Notice of Nuisance Premises stating that their property (a licensed gas station and convenience store) located at 3381 N. 35th St., Milwaukee, Wisconsin, was deemed a nuisance under the Ordinance (the “Notice”). According to the Notice, the Milwaukee Police Department received three calls from Plaintiffs on August 10, 2022, October 23, 2022, and April 29, 2023, for shootings on the premises (“Calls for Services”).
“Based on the Calls for Services, the plaintiffs’ property was put in nuisance status under MCO 80-10-2-C-1-K,” the complaint states.
The complaint further states the Chronic Nuisance Ordinance is constitutionally overbroad and facially invalid under the First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution and under section 4 of the Wisconsin State Constitution.
The complaint also states the ordinance has the effect of deterring plaintiffs, and other similarly situated parties affected by the law, from seeking police assistance by placing them at risk of losing their businesses and paying substantial fines, facially prohibiting a real and substantial amount of expression afforded by the First Amendment and sec. 4 of the Wisconsin State Constitution.
The lawsuit asks the court to declare Milwaukee’s Chronic Nuisance Ordinance unconstitutional, rescind the ordinance, and provide monetary damages to the plaintiffs.
The Wisconsin Law Journal reached out to the Milwaukee Police Department and Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson’s office Wednesday afternoon requesting comment. On Thursday morning, Milwaukee Police officials responded instructing the Wisconsin Law Journal to contact the City Attorney’s office. The Wisconsin Law Journal attempted to reach the City Attorney’s office multiple times Thursday without success.
On Saturday, a spokesperson for Milwaukee Mayor Johnson said his office has declined to comment on the matter.
This story has been updated.