It’s a move by Democratic elected officials to cancel a deputy because he had the nerve to ask their position on whether they think policing is inherently racist.
David Willoughby, a Milwaukee County Sheriff’s deputy who is a former U.S. Marine, was suspended by Milwaukee County Sheriff Earnell Lucas after he sent an email to local politicians simply asking whether they supported an anti-law enforcement tweet by Democratic Michigan Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib. His wife says local politicians are “bullying” her husband because several Democratic elected officials complained directly to the sheriff.
We name names and call out the elected officials below who are trying to cancel David Willoughby for merely asking them where they stand on policing.
In the email, which you can read in full below, David Willoughby did not give his own opinion; he merely asked every member of the Milwaukee County Board and state Legislature, and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, whether they supported Tlaib’s comments that policing is “inherently and intentionally racist” and that policing “can’t be reformed.” She also called for no more incarceration. Some Democratic elected officials were so upset at being asked whether they agreed with those positions on the issues that they told Lucas that Willoughby’s email was everything from “hostile” to “intimidating,” he says.
Willoughby told Wisconsin Right Now in an exclusive interview that he just wanted to know where the elected officials stood and planned to show their responses to other law enforcement officers and the Sheriff’s Department Deputies’ union. Although at least one Republican legislator – Mike Kuglitsch of New Berlin – immediately responded that he opposed Tlaib’s comments, a slew of Democrats took offense that Willoughby sent the email at all and tried to get him in trouble with his boss, the elected sheriff who was widely supported by Democrats when he ran for office. It appears that one reason the department suspended Willoughby was because he used his title and the department name in the email.
“I want politicians to be held accountable,” David Willoughby said in the interview. “We need our leadership to step up and support and defend us and call out individuals who are calling us racist. We need to see that and hear that and know our leadership has our backs and is with us.” He said it didn’t make sense for leadership to be “condemning or punishing someone who is clearly reaching out to help law enforcement to support and defend us.”
What the Email Said
Here’s what Willoughby wrote the officials:
“US Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, Democrat from Michigan, recently tweeted:
‘It wasn’t an accident. Policing in our country is inherently & intentionally racist. Daunte Wright was met with aggression & violence. I am done with those who condone government-funded murder. No more policing, incarceration, and militarization. It can’t be reformed.’
I want to know where you stand on Tlaib’s tweet. Please choose from the following:
1. I strongly agree with her
2. I agree with her
3. I somewhat agree/disagree with her
4. I disagree with her
5. I strongly disagree with her
Please do not respond with a long, politically correct answer, just a number and which political party you most align with.
Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office.”
Free Speech Implications
There is some precedent in case law; two Milwaukee police officers once sued former MPD Chiefs Art Jones and Phil Arreola alleging their free speech rights were violated because they criticized a Jones’ order. “The result was a jury verdict in favor of [Rod] Gustafson and [Javier] Cornejo, awarding each $10,000 in compensatory damages and $180,000 in punitive damages,” a federal court decision says.
That court decision notes, “There are four elements to a First Amendment retaliation claim in the employment context. First, the plaintiffs must prove that their speech was a matter of public concern. Next, they must prove that their speech played at least a substantial part in the employer’s decision to take an adverse employment action against them. If the plaintiffs can carry their burden on these two elements, the defendants can only prevail if they prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the government’s interest, as an employer, in efficiently providing government services outweighs the employees’ First Amendment interests, or if they can prove that they would have disciplined the employees even in the absence of the speech.”
This deputy’s wife, Holly Willoughby, created a GoFundMe page to support him on May 20, 2021. It’s called “Sheriff Deputy Suspended for asking a Question.”
“My husband, Deputy Sheriff Willoughby, sent an email to a handful of local politicians asking where they stood on US Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib’s controversial tweet about law enforcement,” she wrote. “Sheriff Lucas, without an explanation, suspended him. My husband is a Marine veteran, a father of five daughters, a devout Christian, and a strong believer in equality for all. These elected officials have overstepped their positions and are bullying my husband just for asking a question. These oppressors are trying to stifle free speech and intimidate anyone who may think differently. This suspension will negatively impact our family. Please consider helping us.”
His wife wrote that “a handful of elected officials complained directly to the Milwaukee County Sheriffs Office and describe the Deputy’s email as: “‘Intimidating,’ ‘inappropriate,’ ‘weird,’ ‘un-friendly’ and ‘hostile.’ One office holder described Deputy Willoughby as using ‘strong-arm intimidation.’ Another stated that Willoughby’s email reflected poorly on the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office.”
David Willoughby said he believes “most people love law enforcement; it’s a good relationship. They want us in their communities. We’re not a racist organization, and we don’t need to be defunded right now. We love the people we serve. We need leadership to step up and demonstrate they’re with us.” He said he felt compelled to write the email in part because he didn’t believe leadership was doing enough to hold elected officials accountable who oppose law enforcement.
Read his rebuttal to Sheriff Lucas in full here: Rebuttal to Accusations. In it, Willoughby wrote, “In response to this honest question, many of these officials became so heated that they complained directly to the Sheriff’s Office. Rather than responding to the writer, or even questioning the intent, they went for the jugular. It is common knowledge that those who hold elected seats will be asked questions by the people and communities they serve.”
But Lucas gave him the suspension after launching an internal affairs investigation, Willoughby said.
We reached out to the Sheriff’s Department PR team to seek comment but received no response.
Which Elected Officials Complained About David Willoughby’s Email?
David Willoughby gave us this list of the politicians and their aides who he says complained to the Sheriff. These are the deputy’s words from notes he took after being shown their comments by Sheriff’s officials during the internal affairs investigation:
Representative Lakeshia Myers (D)- “The office of Representative Myers perceived the tone of Deputy Willoughby’s email as a bit combative.”
Research Assistant to Rep. David Bowen (D)- “I think the content was a little weird.” And “It seemed like a very hostile email.” Bowen’s office also stated, “It reflects poorly on this individual.”
(Hmmm isn’t a State Representative buying toilet paper right before a police officer’s home was vandalized a “little weird?” Or isn’t being present during a violent attack on two police officers “very hostile?” And isn’t allegedly lying in a press release about what happened and then refusing to give a statement to police, then asking taxpayers for a million dollars because you suffered from “emotional distress,” something that “reflects poorly on this individual?”)
Milwaukee County Supervisor Felesia Martin (D)- Describes Deputy Willoughby’s email as “concerning,” “inappropriate,” “intimidating” and “passive-aggressive” because of the subject matter and believed “It just didn’t sit well with me because of the subject matter and because of the climate with law enforcement and communities of color.” She went on to state, “It was almost as if he was taking a tally of ‘good’ supervisors or non-supportive supervisors.” Supervisor Martin continued by stating that Deputy Willoughby’s email reflected poorly on the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office. She believed that the email contributed to a divisiveness between law enforcement and public officials. “Because the tone of the email and the follow-up email “was not friendly.”
Milwaukee County Supervisor Jason Haas (D)- “I felt that this was a law enforcement officer who was reaching across one of the roles of our government…this is a law enforcement officer who was pressuring on us, the legislative branch, for information about a controversial policy matter and I did not feel comfortable answering that question. I felt it was inappropriate for him, as an individual presenting himself as an officer of the law and alluding to his service in the Sheriffs Office, to be asking us a rather pointed question. I believe he was asking for my individual stance on a controversial political matter.”
Haas continued, “I felt it was inappropriate for him…he was not using county email to do this, but he identified himself as a county sheriffs deputy, who was not serving in his capacity as a deputy to investigate an actual issue of law enforcement. I felt this was actually a pressuring tactic. He might have included that to pressure me into answering, or divulging information if I had it. And this was not done in a way that I would describe as legitimate law enforcement context.”
Haas also stated, “This, I felt, was very inappropriate. He was presenting himself as a Sheriff’s Deputy but seeking political answers on political question. I’m uncomfortable with this too: as I stated, he presented himself as a Sheriffs Deputy and why he is so keenly interested in my position on this political issue…I need to underline, that makes me uncomfortable because he’s an armed law enforcement officer who’s entitled to the public’s trust. Coming to me with this pressure tactic, like some kind of strong-arm intimidation…it seems very intimidating to me and that’s what bothered me.”
Research Assistant to Representative Jonathan Brostoff (D)- “I thought he was trying to use his title in an attempt to increase his chance of receiving a response from representative Brostoff.”
Sheriff’s Department Chief of Staff Theodore F. Chisholm (the Milwaukee County DA’s son)- “The fact that the communication in question was signed with an official rank and agency name is troubling and has been referred for appropriate internal review.”
The Union President Is Concerned
We did receive a response from Fred Gladney, the president of the Milwaukee Deputy Sheriff’s Association.
“We’re concerned about it,” Gladney told WRN of the suspension meted out to Willoughby. He said the union is appealing the discipline to the Wisconsin Employee Relations Commission. Gladney added that the department was accusing Willoughby of violating a rule on prohibited speech, expression and conduct at least in part because he signed the email to the politicians “Deputy Willoughby, Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office,” although Willoughby says he used his personal email, home computer and private time to send it.
Asked if he believed that Lucas, a former Milwaukee police officer, has taken a strong enough stand in defense of law enforcement, Gladney described the sheriff as having a “diplomatic” personality and said, “I can’t say he’s making a stand” on anything. He said some deputies “think he should say more, be more vocal” especially about the protests. “The way a lot of the members feel is that the community is against them, which is a sad thing,” said Gladney.
Deputy David Willoughby has an interesting background. In addition to being a former Marine, he was a swimming instructor, a juvenile corrections officer, and a firefighter in Naples, Florida. His father was Barry Willoughby, who founded the Naples Tea Party. In 2013, when Barry Willoughby died, the Naples Daily News wrote, “Willoughby founded the Naples Tea Party and, with it, spurred others to activism in Southwest Florida.”
David Willoughby is quoted in that story saying of his father, “He was fed up with the direction our country was headed and he had grandchildren that he was thinking about, and their future,’ he told the Daily News.
Willoughby has made national news before. In 2012, Buzzfeed reported that Willoughby, a “lone Scott Walker supporter was arrested at a campaign rally for Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett today, where Bill Clinton also spoke.” Willoughby was holding a sign that said, “Support Scott Walker, Not Union Thugs.” He says it was all “dropped” because he had First Amendment rights and was in a public park. The article says he drew the ire of some Democrats in the crowd when he yelled, “Tell me how you’re going to create jobs!” while Barrett and Clinton were speaking. In that article, he called unions “political pawns.” National Review’s John McCormack tweeted at the time that police said Willoughby’s sign was too close to Clinton (30 feet away) and pointed his finger in a cop’s face when told to leave. At the time, David Willoughby was identified as a swim instructor at UW-Milwaukee.
In December 2020, David Willoughby penned a column titled “Children Suffer Without Strong Families” for The Blue Magazine.
“Don’t get me wrong, we have all seen videos of police officers abusing their power. This is wrong and these officers must be disciplined. That absolutely does NOT mean that all police are racist or abuse their power. The vast majority of police are not racist and take great pride in protecting the very communities in which they work. That needed to be said,” he wrote.
He concluded, “The biggest threat to the Black community is not racism or police brutality. However, the voluntary abandonment of children by their fathers in Black America just might be. Some Black men have abandoned their moral and financial responsibilities and children who are our most valuable resource pay the price. Ultimately … the community suffers.” Willoughby described attending a conference on Juvenile Corrections.
“Towards the end of the conference, about 20 young adults, ages 19-23 (mostly African American) who personally experienced juvenile justice took the stage. They talked about their experiences within the system. Then, the moment which I had been hoping for finally happened,” he wrote. “The host of the conference asked them: ‘What did you need, as a juvenile, that would have would have kept you out of the system?’ Overwhelmingly, they responded: Support. Each one stated that they came from broken families where dad wasn’t present, or mom wasn’t present, or both parents were not present.”
He wrote, “Not one person on the stage said anything about racism, or police brutality. I quickly looked around the room for the speaker that had everyone chanting ‘Racism is the problem.’ I didn’t see her. Too bad.”
He has a long history of protesting and sent us photos and videos showing him at various protests, protesting everything from illegal immigration to President Barack Obama and calling Bill Clinton a “rapist.”