This case is an example of the sort of case where a police officer might be personally sued, at great cost to themselves, if qualified immunity is abolished. Read Wisconsin Right Now‘s stance on the abolishing of qualified immunity here.
Milwaukee County has settled for $50,000 with a woman who was injured in a law enforcement shooting ruled justified by the District Attorney. Paula McEwen was a passenger in a car driven by a man on drugs who had “veered” his car toward the officer after fleeing police and endangering pedestrians and other motorists by driving on medians at the Milwaukee County lakefront. The DA ruled that the motorist had endangered the officer’s life.
In other words, prosecutors ruled that the motorist’s actions were to blame, not the deputy’s.
Yet, it’s the county that’s paying out, through its insurance company.
The settlement is revealed in documents from the Milwaukee County Corporation Counsel, Office of Corporation Counsel, which provided “an informational report regarding the status of pending litigation” to the Committees on Judiciary, Safety, and General Services, and Finance. The report says the county has “delegated settlement authority to WCMIC through its insurance contract.” WCMIC is the Wisconsin County Mutual Insurance Corporation. The settlements don’t require Milwaukee Count Board approval.
The chart in the February 2021 report lists nine settlements; eight are for property damage.
The police shooting settlement of $50,000 went to Paula McEwen for “Injury allegedly resulting from deputy involving shooting at the lakefront.”
According to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article from 2017, Paula McEwen was a passenger in a car driven by Terry Wiliams, who “was fleeing from sheriff’s deputies along Lincoln Memorial Drive.” A Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Deputy fatally shot Williams. McEwen was injured, according to the newspaper article, “resulting in shoulder and hand surgeries and skin grafts. She continues to suffer fear, anxiety, depression and other conditions.” Her lawyer claimed the deputy used excessive force.
However, that’s not what the District Attorney felt.
In 2018, Milwaukee County DA John Chisholm’s officer cleared the officer, ruling that he was using lawful self defense under Wisconsin law
The letter to the sheriff by Kent Lovern, chief deputy district attorney, clearing the officer, says that a different deputy tried to stop Williams’ Audi for a failure to obey sign violation on Lincoln Memorial Drive. The deputy activated his squad lights and verbally ordered Williams to pull over.
Williams did not comply and instead turned the Audi to the left, crossed oncoming traffic and drove over a curb onto a grassy area of the hill.
He then drove over the median and then northbound onto the median separating the north and south bound lanes.
The deputy was assigned to foot patrol. He saw Williams drive his car away from the officer through the grass. He ran to the interaction, drew his service firearm and approached the Audi, repeatedly ordering Williams to stop, the letter states.
Williams continued to drive northbound, “first on the median and then quickly swerving toward the left, nearly striking (the deputy) in the process.” The deputy opened fire, fatally shooting Williams.
The deputy told investigators he was concerned about the safety of people in the area.
He believed his life was in danger because he saw Williams “swerve his vehicle toward him.”
Williams had opiates and marijuana in his system, the letter says.
“This office finds that the force used by (the deputy) is privileged in self-defense and defense of others and justified under Wisconsin law,” Lovern wrote.
Lovern noted that Williams made the conscious decision to avoid being stopped by a marked squad car with activated lights and siren. Instead of following an officer’s express order to pull his vehicle out of traffic, he drove off the road into a grassy public space often occupied by pedestrians. Williams continued driving through this public space often occupied by pedestrians. Williams continued driving through this public space and over a sidewalk back onto Lincoln Memorial Drive, Lovern wrote.
His actions “indicated reckless disregard for the many other cars and people surrounding him,” wrote Lovern.
The deputy’s own life was “endangered by Williams’ continued driving toward him and actually veered his vehicle toward” the deputy, Lovern concluded.
(Note: This case is an example of the sort of case where a police officer might be personally sued, at great cost to themselves, if qualified immunity is abolished. Read Wisconsin Right Now’s stance on the abolishing of qualified immunity here.)