The Sterling Brown settlement “is more for the people”
In a series of spelling and grammar error riddled late night Facebook messages about the Sylville Smith settlement and referencing the Sterling Brown incident, new Milwaukee City Attorney Tearman Spencer accused the city of failing previously to “settle with the black man” and stressed that the Smith settlement was coming in the midst of a climate “fill (sic) with justice for black lives!”
In another message, Spencer, who admitted to us that he wrote the messages, responded to the upset constituent, “If you ask why are black people still at the level they are ‘think about it.’ We have a long way to go and I’m going to do my part!”
After Tearman Spencer repeatedly brought up race in the messages, the constituent who gave them to us asked Spencer, regarding the Smith settlement, if he sees “this offer as a way of making things right for black people our people who have not received justice? Like reparations.”
He responded: “No, this money is just for the wrong cause by one incident.. we as a people need change and it’s coming..the Sterling Brown matter is more for the people…but everything that’s done helps a little…” (Spencer is in gray below).
Spencer cast the Smith settlement decision as fitting with his belief that level-headed minds are needed to “help fight this fight” to correct past wrongs “that has (sic) been perpetrated on many of this city’s citizens.”
It was revealed on November 9 that Spencer is now also proposing that the city settle the Brown matter for $750,000. That comes on the heels of the $4 million settlement with the family of Smith, who had a gun in hand when he fled the police officer who shot him.
We showed Tearman Spencer’s messages to Dale Bormann, Jr., the president of the Milwaukee Police Association, which represents rank-and-file officers, and asked for his reaction. “The role of the city attorney in the City of Milwaukee is to protect officers when something occurs that they did correctly,” Bormann said. “If the city attorney’s office is not going to stand up and protect the officers …then that will end up being detrimental to the officers. We’ve received several phone calls from officers saying, ‘Why is he just giving in?'”
Bormann said the Smith case was “an important first case for him (Spencer)” but “he’s really showing who he wants to be.” He was concerned that Spencer repeatedly brought up race as a motivation in his Facebook messages. He said the city attorney should decide whether to settle cases “on the merits. It has nothing to do with whether you’re white, black, blue, green, yellow or whatever.” He said that Spencer is supposed to be “factual” but was playing the “race card” instead.
Spencer offered a contrary view about police in the messages.
“Why was so many officers found not guilty of killing so many black men when it was obvious that the action did not constitute self defense?? There are many questions that you should ask and there is much information…to receive,” wrote Spencer to the upset constituent who criticized his recommendation that the city settle with Smith’s family for $4 million. The messages occurred before Tearman Spencer announced the Brown settlement but made it clear that was looming.
He also wrote that he thought the city needed a corruption division but “this is not the time…there is no money… and there are too many people involved.. that don’t want to be uncovered…we have to concentrate on changing the culture over time. Remember we didn’t get here overnight. 40-50 years in the making and it’s going to take time to change.”
He added, “The victim (Smith) was not an upstanding citizen…but when I try to save the city $10 million dollars ‘in your words’ I’m the villain, making stupid decisions and don’t deserve your vote. You need to look closer at the counsel (sic) and the Mayors (sic) office and ask why are they so against me for trying to correct the problems that causes (sic) the law suites (sic) in the first place…”
He said the corruption makes it hard for him to sleep.
Spencer, a close ally of Congresswoman Gwen Moore, is an attorney who ousted long-time Milwaukee City Attorney Grant Langley in the last election. He is the city’s first black city attorney. We know the identity of the constituent and confirmed the authenticity of the messages; the person lives in the City of Milwaukee.
In another message obtained by Wisconsin Right Now, Spencer told the constituent: “Why are they upset about me recognizing that all lives matter including ‘Black lives’..We are so quick to condemn our people when we try to do what’s right for them. And if you ask why are black people still at the level they are ‘think about it.’ We have a long way to go and I’m going to do my part! That’s why I was elected…I’m going to do what they untrusted (sic) me to do! I fight for the betterment of all not the one. By the way, I will be the voice for those who do not have a voice… please direct your anger where it belong (sic).”
We Called Tearman Spencer to Ask About the Messages
We reached out to Spencer to ask about the messages, and in an hour long phone interview with us, he claimed the messages were “private.” He insisted the Smith settlement was “done in the best interest of the city” because the “views of legal experts” was that the city might end up paying more “in light of the climate we’re in right now,” citing the Breonna Taylor case in Kentucky. He wouldn’t name the experts.
In a letter explaining the proposed settlement with Brown, a Milwaukee Bucks player, Spencer gave a very different rationale than that imparted in the private messages; he said that he was trying to avoid trial and acting on the advice of a mediator. The proposed settlement “contains an admission of a constitutional violation and a commitment to incorporate changes to Milwaukee Police Department Standard Operating Procedures,” the letter states.