Sunday, March 3, 2024
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Sunday, March 3, 2024

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Who Killed Baby Thao? Is Milwaukee County DA John Chisholm Keeping the Wrong Man in Prison?

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A Milwaukee man has spent more than five years in prison, and counting, for a high-profile murder the system knows he may not have committed. Why are John Chisholm and Josh Kaul silent?

The murder of Baby Bill Thao was one of the highest-profile homicides in recent Milwaukee, Wisconsin, history, and one of the most egregious. The 13-month-old Hmong child’s parents had fled Laos, where they were targeted after the Vietnam War, initially finding sanctuary in Milwaukee. By all accounts, the family was quiet and stayed to themselves.

That peacefulness ended two days after Christmas 2014, as Baby Thao played with Lego toys on the floor inside his family’s home at 73rd and Mill Road. Forty-one bullets fired by at least three different suspects smashed through the home, one ripping through the toddler’s right flank and exiting out of his stomach. The child struggled to breathe but didn’t cry. He died a short time later at the hospital.

It seemed an open-and-shut case in a community that was galvanized against violence. Milwaukee police made a big arrest – of a heroin dealer named Darmequaye Cohill – pretty quickly in the midst of intense community outcry over Baby Thao’s death, which occurred on the heels of the death of another child named Laylah Petersen, who was shot on her grandfather’s lap in a remarkably similar but unrelated shooting the month before.

The only problem is that some people – including a determined former state drug and gang agent/Milwaukee police officer who has been trying to get Chisholm’s office to listen for years – don’t think Cohill did it.

“As I am sure you will recall, I had previously submitted what I perceived to be exculpatory information regarding this incident as was outlined within my January 11, 2017 memo that was not, understandably, positively received by either the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office or the Milwaukee Police Department,” that agent, Bodo Gajevic, wrote in a 2018 memo. He is a former veteran Milwaukee police officer who has worked as an investigator with the North Central HIDTA (High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area).

The Gajevic memo, which we received from a courthouse source, and which the system has had for years, paints a compelling indictment of the prosecution of Cohill. It says that Steven R. Jordan, a “Bless Team gang” affiliate of Cohill’s, is accused of saying, “I got a motherf*cker sitting in jail doing 60 years for me right now.” Jordan, who has not been charged or arrested in connection with the homicide and who was recently acquitted of a plot to assassinate a former prosecutor/now judge in the courthouse cafeteria, allegedly stated that he shot Baby Thao, but that he and a relative paid $60,000 for Cohill’s lawyer and also paid Cohill to stay in jail for Jordan, the memo alleges. He allegedly admitted that there were four shooters in the car that night, the memo says. Gajevic declined to comment when contacted, but the memo detailed his stance in great detail.

In 2017, a corrections official also raised concerns about the guilt of Cohill, who was known on the streets as “Crazy K.” And that’s just for starters.

Baby thao

It goes without saying that everyone involved in shooting at the Bill Thao home needs to be brought to justice. Photos of the Thao family home, obtained by Wisconsin Right Now through an open records request to Milwaukee police, show the many bullets that tore through the dwelling on Dec. 27, 2014. One eerie photo shows a baby bottle lying on the ground; there were multiple other children in the home at the time, although they were miraculously unscathed.

The only person ever charged in the Baby Bill Thao murder was Darmequaye Cohill; the community had had enough, and few questioned his conviction at the time.

Somboon Thao, the victim’s father, spoke at Darmequaye Cohill’s sentencing. “We have one life to live,” he said. “He end up killing my son for no reason…it’s a hurt more than I can say. Every time I turn every corner…My son doesn’t deserve it. He born into the earth to enjoy life and now he’s gone. We don’t have anything for us.”

In a very unusual set of circumstances, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals has repeatedly extended the deadline for Cohill to appeal his conviction; court records show the deadline has been extended an astonishing 23 times. Most recently, the deadline was extended, yet again, to March 2022. Prosecutors have not objected.

Baby thao

Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm and now state Attorney General Josh Kaul have known about the evidence and claims of innocence for years. Chisholm has known since at least 2017. Darmequaye Cohill sits in a state prison today.

In 2018, the leaked state Department of Justice memo provoked a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel news story that questioned whether police had the wrong man; in it, it was revealed that Chisholm had named a special prosecutor named David Robles to look into the wrongful conviction claims, an unusual move. Chisholm tapped Robles to lead the probe way back in 2018 but has never announced the results.

Wisconsin Right Now has obtained that memo and other documents from a Milwaukee courthouse source who is concerned that, years later, nothing has happened.

We asked the state Department of Corrections for an in-person interview with Darmequaye Cohill in prison. The Tony Evers-run agency refused our request, silencing him from telling his story. Milwaukee police declined to comment. Chisholm’s office declined to comment. Darmequaye Cohill’s defense attorney declined to comment.

Years after the DA launched the new probe, Darmequaye Cohill, who yelled out during his sentencing hearing, “I didn’t do that,” still sits in a state prison, and Chisholm won’t say why. We asked Chisholm’s office what was going on with Robles’ long-languishing investigation: “Is Robles still investigating the Cohill case?” we asked in late October 2021. “If so, why is it taking so long? If not, when did it conclude and what did he determine?” Chisholm’s spokesman Kent Lovern said only that the office had zero comment.

The state prison system shut the door on an interview with Darmequaye Cohill.

“The Warden of the associated facility weighs each interview request individually and considers the safety and order of the facility, welfare of the subject of the interview request and recommendation from Office of Victim Services on potential victim impact,” DOC’s public information manager told Wisconsin Right Now. “Unfortunately in this case, Wisconsin DOC will not be able to facilitate the interview request with Mr. Cohill at this time.”

Gajevic also outlined the concerns about Darmequaye Cohill’s innocence in a 2017 voicemail to the head of Chisholm’s homicide unit, Paul Tiffin, the memo reveals. That memo is a detailed explanation of the evidence that may exonerate Cohill in the homicide, and Chisholm and Kaul have had it for years. Tiffin didn’t return the agent’s call.

That same year, the state Department of Corrections captain relayed similar information to numerous officials – Darmequaye Cohill, known as “Crazy K,” and “Black” – wasn’t the shooter of Baby Thao.

In short, Bless Team Gang members and/or their associates were talking. A lot. Quickly an alternate theory emerged, and four suspect names emerged, none of them Darmequaye Cohill. Milwaukee police reports obtained by Wisconsin Right Now show that those same suspects were on the radar of investigators at the time.

Cohill has aged a lot during his time in prison, photos show.

Darmequaye cohill
Darmequaye cohill, then and now

The truth of the Baby Thao shooting lies somewhere within the murky depths of Milwaukee’s drug trade and its gang wars. Records paint a disturbing picture of those violent worlds at a time that some are pushing for less drug prosecution and enforcement. The problem, of course, is that the truth may rest with a series of confidential informants who themselves have shady pasts or something to gain. However, the informants – and there are multiple such informants (at least three), talking to different people, at different times over the years – have added up, giving more credibility to the accounts.


A ‘Star Witness’ Crumbles

Kwesen sanders
Kwesen sanders

The motive, according to even those who don’t believe Darmequaye Cohill was there when Baby Bill was shot, was tied up in a violent street gang called the Bless Gang and its heroin rivalries. In that, Cohill was deeply involved, so he bears a certain moral guilt if not a technical one. Two years later, in December 2016, Cohill, then 21, was handed 50 years in prison at an emotional sentencing after a jury convicted him of Baby Thao’s homicide and another shooting the day before that is inextricably linked. Although everyone agreed there were multiple suspects, and police reports and a state memo show everyone also knew exactly who they were, no one else ever faced justice.

Prosecutors argued that Darmequaye Cohill’s real target was Kwesen Sanders, a heroin dealer nicknamed K-Money who lived near Baby Thao’s home and had “swiped” Cohill’s phone number to get his drug contacts. He was affiliated with a rival drug gang called the Wild 100s. Prosecutors said Cohill and the other suspects, never charged, shot up the wrong house after shooting, and missing, at Sanders the day before.

The Wild 100s were responsible for their share of carnage on Milwaukee’s streets, including the robbery of the Innovative Optique store in Fox Point that ended with a robber shot dead by an employee, and a teenager who was killed during a robbery on the south side.

Sanders, himself a heroin dealer, was the state’s star witness, and he’s a key figure in Cohill’s claims of innocence. He is the only person who ever identified Cohill as being at, and shooting at, the Thao house that day.

Baby thao
Baby bill thao

But Sanders, Cohill’s gang rival, got a deal to identify Cohill as the shooter and then went back on it. That deal got Sanders off the hook in yet another shooting case.

“Three or four guys shot 41 rounds into Bill Thao’s relative’s house, and Mr. Cohill wasn’t there,” defense attorney Craig Powell said in court, transcripts show. Powell said the only evidence Darmequaye Cohill was there was the “word of Kwesen Sanders.”

In addition, the defense attorney claimed, there is evidence AGAINST Cohill being one of the Thao shooters. Cell phone evidence presented in court shows that Cohill’s phone was elsewhere at the time, Powell insisted, and Powell said his client was on Facetime and taking a phone call at the time Thao was shot.

Baby thao

The defense attorney said that the prosecution “has hitched their wagon to Mr. Sanders. He is their guy. They bought him. They paid for him with his freedom. He had a shooting case, and he knew it when he came in to talk to them. Gone. Dope case. Gone.”

But when it came time to testify as promised, Sanders did a total about-face and completely reneged on his side of the deal, now insisting under oath that Cohill did not do it. Prosecutors had already given him a pass, and he never faced justice in the unrelated shooting.

“He’s (Cohill’s) not the shooter. What don’t you all get?” Sanders said in court during his dramatic about-face testimony. Prosecutors presented evidence that Sanders had identified Darmequaye Cohill as the shooter to police previously. There was no recording of the police interview with Sanders.

Of Kwesen Sanders, the defense attorney said in court that he was a guy with “six convictions from the street. A guy who’s got an ATF camera posted at his house. A guy who gets shot at apparently year-round. A guy who shoots other people, allegedly, and gets his case thrown out.”

Baby thao

Powell told the judge, “There were 1,728 people in this country since 1989 who have been exonerated — innocent people in prison for crimes they didn’t commit. I’m confident that one day Mr. Cohill is going to be added to that list.”

Was he right?


Threats to Assassinate a Prosecutor

Baby thao
Steven r. Jordan

The four other suspects are named in the state agent’s memo; we ran their records. The main suspect, Steven R. Jordan, a Bless Gang affiliate of Cohill’s, is in prison until 2029 for a series of drug cases out of Milwaukee and Waukesha; the second has been serving a six-year prison sentence for heroin and cocaine dealing out of Milwaukee since 2017; the third man was sent to prison for heroin dealing with a dangerous weapon.

But court records say of the third suspect that, in 2020, “DOC is requesting the Court to authorize the inmate’s release and conversion of remaining confinement time to extended supervision.” His address is now given as Milwaukee. “Signed Earned Release Program/Substance Abuse Program Order,” the court noted.

The fourth? He has an open felony case in Milwaukee County for second-degree recklessly endangering safety as a habitual criminal and fleeing an officer. It’s been pending since 2020 as the backlogged court system has been unable to give him a jury trial. He’s already in custody. In another case in 2016, he was sentenced to 13 years in prison for cocaine dealing and fleeing an officer as a habitual criminal.

Laura crivello
Laura crivello

In short, these guys are in a lot of trouble already, but it’s a far cry from a homicide sentence that would get them off the streets for good.

This story is not just about Darmequaye Cohill or whether he’s a good person (bad people can be wrongfully convicted too); it’s about pursuit of the truth because that’s what the court system is supposed to stand for, and it’s the oath taken by Chisholm and Kaul and others in the system.

It’s about the fact the system had the names of four other potential shooters who, if they murdered Baby Thao, have never been held accountable for it.

All could be back on the streets in a few years.

The investigation was further hindered, the Journal Sentinel reported in 2019, when a correctional officer named Robert Wilcox was accused in 2018 of putting rat pictures next to inmates’ names to out them as informants. That didn’t make people too eager to continue talking.

Yet we’ve learned that there’s a new development. One of the four, Baby Thao suspect Steven R. Jordan, was acquitted in August 2021 of plotting to murder an Assistant District Attorney, Laura Crivello, who is now a Milwaukee County judge. The case was handled by a prosecutor from Kaul’s office, but Jordan was acquitted. It took the Waushara County jury only 1 hour and 17 minutes to find Jordan not guilty of threatening Crivello. According to court records, Jordan was sentenced in 2016 to 13.5 years for other cases involving drugs; the acquittal sets up the prospect that he will get out in 2029, according to Corrections records.

“The b*tch thinks she can’t be touched,” the criminal complaint claims he said of Crivello, but the case was, again, built on the word of prison informants. He allegedly said he wanted “hitters” to attack her in the cafeteria in the basement of the massive Milwaukee County courthouse complex.

“This is the ultimate form of attempted intimidation against the criminal justice system,” Crivello told the Journal Sentinel at the time.

Baby thao
Baby thao

In a police interview right after the Baby Thao murder, Jordan said that he was unemployed, having last worked at Walmart on Capitol Drive. He completed 11th grade at Pulaski High School in Milwaukee and had a previous marijuana and cocaine arrest.

The police reports say he admitted to involvement in an attempted armed robbery and that he had purchased a gun on the street for $350. In the few months before the Thao murder, Jordan had been the victim of several robberies and had been with people who have been shot.

“When confronted with the fact that we believed he was present during the shots fired complaint on December 26, 2014 at 6435 N. 73rd St., Jordan indicated he no longer wanted to speak,” the police reports say.


No Angels Here

Baby thao

To be clear, Darmequaye Cohill is no angel and minimally the Baby Thao shooting is caught up in the motive involving his drug contacts, but wrongfully convicted people often aren’t saints; it’s why they get looked at in the first place. At any rate, in the American system of justice, people are only supposed to receive punishment for things they actually do. To be blunt, there’s very persuasive evidence that Darmequaye Cohill was involved in the shooting the night before, at least as party-to-a-crime, although he pins that gunfire on Jordan as well. He is serving a much lesser sentence for that offense.

Cohill has a felony heroin dealing conviction from 2014. He wasn’t sentenced in that case until 2016, but the six-year prison term was set to run concurrently with the sentence in the Thao homicide. Cohill’s nickname is “Crazy K,” and “Black,” and the memo states he kept quiet at first about who the real shooters were to protect the Bless Team gang, a violent Milwaukee street gang that trafficked in drugs.

Court transcripts and police reports all paint a similar story of the genesis of the Baby Thao shooting. Darmequaye Cohill was a heroin dealer, and his girlfriend posted his cell phone number on social media, where it was “swiped” and given to a rival dealer – Sanders – who wanted to steal Cohill’s drug contacts.

Sanders stayed at a home next to the Thao residence.

On Dec. 26, 2014, the day before Baby Thao Bill was shot, Sanders sold drugs to a Waukesha County heroin user nicknamed “Action” using the Cohill cell phone. That heroin user grew suspicious and alerted Cohill, whom he knew as “Black,” that someone was pretending to be his cousin to sell the man drugs. The man testified that Cohill asked him to arrange another drug transaction with Sanders outside the home where Sanders was staying. We have pieced all of this together from voluminous court and police records.

As that transaction went down, gunfire erupted. No one was struck.

Various witnesses got vague descriptions of the car used, according to police reports. Invariably, people would describe a black vehicle at the shooting scene (and at the Baby Thao shooting the next day). Cohill drove a black vehicle, but so did Jordan, who quickly sold the car because it brought him “bad luck,” police reports say.

Sanders, when he described Darmequaye Cohill as the shooter (before taking it back), said the Baby Thao gunmen were in a red vehicle, not a black one, police reports say, but many other witnesses said the vehicle was black, and some described two vehicles. An associate of Cohill and Jordan had a red vehicle, police reports say.

No one saw the shooter on Dec. 26.

Cohill immediately landed on police radar after the homicide of Baby Thao because of this night-before shooting; a confidential informant claimed that Cohill and a man known as “Mar Mar” were involved.

“Action,” the drug user, told police that “Black” – Cohill – wanted  to “jump out on him (Sanders) so that he could get his phone back.”

After the gunfire on Dec. 26, Action called Black and yelled at him for shooting at them, police reports say, and Black said, “My bad.” Although Cohill’s story differs on this point, it’s persuasive evidence to back up the conviction for party-of-a-crime in this earlier offense.

Later that evening, police reports say, Jordan, “Mar Mar,” Cohill, and a fourth man hung out at Notte Lounge.

Jordan was arrested quickly after the Baby Thao homicide for an alleged attempted armed robbery from September 2014, but he was never charged in the Baby Thao murder. Jordan was allegedly involved in dangerous activities; in December 2014, he drove another man in his later-sold black Chevrolet four-door to the hospital after that man was shot along N. 21st St.

A drug user incarcerated on a warrant told police he heard in jail that Cohill was responsible “for the Asian child being shot and killed.” Police towed Cohill’s Pontiac G6 black four-door. His aunt told police that Cohill was thrown out of his mother’s house when he was 15 because his lifestyle was “dirty.”

When he was interviewed by MPD shortly after Baby Thao died, Darmequaye Cohill confirmed his girlfriend put his cell phone number on Facebook and someone swiped it, a fact he claimed he learned from Jordan. He said a white male drug user from the suburbs told him a person was pretending to be him and was looking to sell drugs. He said that drug user told him about some gunshots being fired in the area.

He said he was at his mother’s house and could not have been involved in that shooting or the murder, but he did admit to a Sept. 10, 2014 armed robbery, in which he and Jordan were accused of going to get money from his aunt, armed with pistols.

On Dec. 26, Darmequaye Cohill said he was with Jordan and another suspect. They were going to beat up Sanders to get his phone back, he admitted, police reports say. When it comes to the shooting the day before Baby Thao died, on the same street, at Sanders, Cohill blamed Steven Jordan.

Cohill told police that Jordan “reached down between the driver’s seat and grabbed a handgun. He then just started shooting in the direction of the vehicle (the drug user) was in.” He got heroin from Jordan to give to the drug user for “putting him in this situation.”

Baby thao

The next day, when Baby Thao died, Cohill told police he wasn’t there – he was selling heroin. It was hardly an alibi that would earn favor with a jury, but he insisted it was the truth.

The next day, three-four suspects returned to the Sanders’ street and opened fire again, hitting the Thao house and slaying the true innocent in this entire mess: Baby Bill Thao.

After the Baby Thao shooting, Cohill claimed that Jordan, and the two other suspects, all came into a house where he was staying and “pulled out guns together. They all said together, ‘I just lit that motherf***** up.” He said that Jordan “had the same gun as the night before,” and the other men were armed too.

Police found a handgun, casings, and bullets in a search of Jordan’s residence.

Sanders’ mother, Tameka Sanders, told police she saw “three black males” running from the scene after the Baby Thao shooting on Dec. 27, and they got into a dark-colored vehicle, police reports show. Tameka Sanders initially believed the motive might relate to an unrelated incident in which her nephew Tedric Sanders “was shot over someone taking someone’s glasses,” police reports say. [Tedric was sentenced to prison because he tried to rob Innovative Optique in Fox Point, and his accomplice was shot and killed by a store employee.]

A woman who works nearby also saw a black car. Another woman did too. One witness saw two dark-colored cars. But police could never get good video, and only Kwesen Sanders claimed he got a good enough look to identify anyone.

Sanders was arrested for possession of heroin and an unrelated recklessly endangering safety complaint. That’s when he revealed that he had seen the four men in a red car open fire at the Thao home on Dec. 27, and he said that Cohill, his drug rival, was one of them. He did not name the others, but, police reports say, Sanders initially claimed he saw Cohill “walk directly to the street, raise his arm, and while holding a handgun fired two to three times.”

Chisholm’s office decided to deal with Sanders, the prosecutor, Antoni Apollo, admitted in closing arguments.

“You provide us with the information on the Baby Bill killing, and we won’t charge you with the unrelated shooting case,” Apollo described that deal in court. At the time, Sanders had been arrested on an unrelated shooting incident; he was out on bail for a heroin offense.

Sanders does have a 2015 narcotics possession conviction, a felony. He received 90 days in the House of Correction and probation for that. He has a string of misdemeanors between 2014 and 2016, but nothing since, and no charge for a shooting.

In a very important piece of evidence, the Wisconsin State Crime Lab was sent the casings from both the Dec. 26 shooting and the Dec. 27 homicide of Baby Thao and determined that some were from the same gun. [Josh Kaul a few years later abolished a federal gun tracing program used by police departments to match bullets used in multiple crime scenes.]

That was enough to get Darmequaye Cohill charged with murder. Everyone else skated.

The prosecutor later said in court, “We’ve had enough of the individuals dealing the poison that is heroin.” He said Baby Bill was a child who “very well could have done significant things.”

The defense attorney, Craig Powell, said that Cohill dropped out of school in the 11th grade and got a GED. He was from a split family and had no guidance growing up.

He noted: “Nobody on the 26th saw Mr. Cohill shoot a gun.”

He stressed: “Mr. Cohill was not present at 73rd and Mill Road on Dec. 27 when Bill Thao was killed.” He was in West Lawn projects on the phone with a man and on FaceTime with a woman, he said. There were four shooters. None of them was him, said Powell.

Powell called a cell phone technician to the stand. He said that cell phone evidence showed Cohill’s phone pinging off a tower at 6:09:04 and 6:14:30. The Thao murder occurred around 6:13. In one case, it was “Action” calling for drugs.

The prosecutor said that the cell phone expert couldn’t prove the cell towers were all working, and that the FaceTime call was not demonstrably answered or by whom. They said Cohill hid out in a hotel with his girlfriend after the Baby Thao shooting and told her that police might be looking at him for the death of that baby.

In 2016, after a jury trial, Darmequaye Cohill received a 15-year sentence with 10 years in prison for the earlier shooting; he’s got four years to go. However, he received a consecutive sentence of 60 years, with 40 years confinement time, for the Thao homicide.

The judge, Jeffrey Wagner, called the motive “greed, violence, arrogance.” He called the shooting “outrageous and evil…This young child was playing Legos with his family.” The judge asked Cohill, “Why should there be hope for yourself?”

“Because I didn’t do that,” Cohill responded.


‘He Did Not Return the Call’

Josh kaul
Josh kaul

The story picks up with Gajevic, the courageous former Milwaukee cop who later went on to work as a narcotics investigator for Kaul’s Department of Justice’s Division of Criminal Enforcement. He wrote the key memo in question back in January 2018 to his superior at DOJ, Deputy Administrator Jason Smith.

Thus, Kaul’s office is well-aware of the innocence claims (Kaul took over in January 2019), yet has done nothing, even though the DOJ handles criminal appeals.

Crivello and Gajevic have spoken together about Milwaukee drug trends and its heroin trade and gang violence, and they’ve played a role in the area’s High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area. In short, they’re subject matter experts.

In the memo, Gajevic wrote that he was submitting the memo at Smith’s directive “regarding recent exculpatory information obtained” relating to the homicide of Thao and Cohill’s reckless homicide conviction. He said he learned the information through an “unrelated threat investigation” being investigated by himself and Special Agent Todd Higgins that was “previously being handled by investigators of the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office.”

That investigation? The Crivello threats probe into Jordan, described in the memo as the “leader of a notorious and dangerous Milwaukee Drug Trafficking Organization identified as the ‘Bless Team.'” Crivello had prosecuted Jordan.

Baby thao

As the special agent was reading a recorded interview from 2017 of a confidential informant who was a prison inmate, he realized that it contained a potential bombshell. “This confidential informant/inmate provided a statement alleging that JORDAN confessed to him of having killed…Bill Thao, along with other individuals, and further stated that Cohill was not involved,” the memo states.

That statement was obtained by an investigator with Chisholm’s office and two Milwaukee police detectives; but that wasn’t all.

This information, wrote Gajevic, was “consistent with what I reported approximately one year ago in a previous memorandum.”

In other words, the concerns about Cohill’s guilt dated back to 2017. In the memo, Gajevic does not mince words.

“As I am sure you will recall, I had previously submitted what I perceived to be exculpatory information regarding this incident as was outlined within my January 11, 2017 memo that was not, understandably, positively received by either the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office or the Milwaukee Police Department,” he wrote.

“This memorandum was based upon an interview of a ‘Bless Team’ gang member who not only was familiar with this homicide but was present following the homicide when other ‘Bless Team’ gang members confessed their involvement in this shooting/homicide at an impromptu gang meeting where a plan was developed to protect their role in the commission of this crime from being revealed. At that time, this confidential informant provided what appeared to be a credible alternative theory when examining the whole tenor and import of that homicide investigation and trial,” says the memo.

He added: “I am also aware of additional possible exculpatory information consisting of correspondence, confidential informant(s) interviews, and jail recordings discovered, developed, and submitted by members of the Wisconsin Department of Corrections’ Strategic Threat Group (STG) disseminated to North Central HIDTA ISC as well as to other individuals throughout the state regarding the same alternative theory to this homicide that they developed themselves.”

But is the informant who obtained the alleged confession credible? “In assessing the credibility of this confidential informant/inmate who obtained this confession, you should be aware that his statements to investigators regarding the alleged threats levied by JORDAN towards the Milwaukee County Assistant District Attorney have been verified and corroborated by two other confidential informants/inmates also housed at RGCI,” the memo says. “In addition thereto, it is also important to note that this confidential informant/inmate has been actively utilized as a confidential informant by the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office, the Milwaukee Police Department, and the F.B.I. Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Gang Task Force since at least April of 2016 having provided verified credible information leading to multiple drug arrests, individuals involved with firearms-related offenses, as well as including information leading to arrests on open homicide investigations and has agreed to testify in open court should it be necessitated.”

The informant also had pending homicide and heroin dealing charges, though, and was seeking consideration relating to those charges. According to the memo, Gajevic believed that other evidence presented in the trial, such as witness testimony and other evidence, supports the theory that Cohill didn’t do it.

The new information stemmed from a 2015 investigation by HIDTA into a heroin and cocaine dealing ring that was also involved in carjackings, shootings and motor vehicle thefts in the Milwaukee area.

Two individuals – Steven R. Jordan and his twin brother Stephen S. Jordan (not one of the four suspects) – were accused of being “high ranking members” of the Milwaukee street gang called the “Bless Team,” the memo says.

Baby thao
Steven r. Jordan cases

Steven R. Jordan was arrested and charged with multiple felony offenses in Milwaukee and Waukesha County and was sent to prison at the Red Granite Correctional Institute. He had five different criminal cases in Milwaukee County and two in Waukesha.  He’s currently being held at the Wisconsin Secure Program Facility, according to DOC records.

Baby thao
A portion of the memo

In January 2017, Gajevic wrote a memo outlining his concerns to Chisholm, Lovern and Assistant Attorney General Jacob Corr (who, incidentally, is the prosecutor who handled the bail case involving one of Darrell Brooks’ pending felonies before the Waukesha parade attack of 2021.)

The memo came about through a confidential source who was a member of the Bless Team gang.

Information from conversations with this source in December 2016 and 2017 was conveyed to Milwaukee County District Attorney Paul Tiffin, head of Chisholm’s Homicide Prosecution Unit, on January 4, 2017, in a detailed voicemail message. He didn’t return the call.

SAIC Jake Jansky of the HIDTA Heroin Task Force requested an email timeline.

Gajevic also authored an earlier memo and gave it to Crivello, then an ADA, S/A James Krueger, and SAIC Jake Jansky. She gave it to Chisholm, Lovern and Corr. But “no response was ever received,” so another memo was created.

What does that January 11, 2017 memo say?

It describes an interview between Gajevic, Krueger and a Wisconsin Department of Justice Confidential Source.

The source volunteered information about the Cohill case. The source told the agents that “Cohill was not involved in the shooting of Bill Thao.”

He obtained the information from “confessions by the co-actors.”

Again, Cohill was no angel; this source says he was involved in shooting at Kwesen Sanders the day before, on December 26, 2014, regarding the theft of a phone or phone number.

However, on the next day, December 27, 2014, four different people responded to the house of Baby Thao and “shot into the wrong residence, fatally wounding Bill Thao.”

Asked who they were, the informant identified Steve Jordan and three other Bless Team gang members whom we aren’t naming because they haven’t been charged.

The source stated the shooting “was described in detail to not only the CS but to additional multiple members of the Bless Team while inside of Jordan’s loft apartment on Reservoir Street a day after the shooting wherein Steven Jordan was explaining to the individuals present what had transpired and who was all there.” The memo names the other three men.

One of those other men also told the confidential source that the other three men were involved in the shooting. One of those men told the source “that they all had guns and shot into the wrong apartment.”

He said they had driven to Thao’s home in Jordan’s black Chevrolet Malibu and these “four actors shot into the residence while inside of Jordan’s auto.” After that, Jordan said he was going to take the car to the Chicago area to be shredded, the source told police, according to the memo.

He claimed that Darmequaye Cohill initially was told not to say anything about who did the shooting because the men told him no jury would find him guilty because “he wasn’t there.”

The information was relayed to Cohill’s defense attorney, Craig Powell, who said he had other sources who could corroborate the statement.

That source was later sentenced on multiple charges relating to heroin dealing and auto theft.

At that time, the attorney for Cohill told Gajevic that “neither the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office nor the Milwaukee Police Department had ever interviewed or attempted to interview the confidential source regarding the information contained within the above memorandum.”

He was not given any sentencing credit for the information as a result.

On Sept. 21, 2017, captain Jason Wilke of the Department of Corrections Strategic Threat Group sent an email to multiple people including HIDTA.

That email involved allegations of heroin dealing at the Red Granite prison.

It stated that an informant had provided information about Jordan and the Thao homicide, revealing the caliber of weapons and stating that the “four shooters were trying to kill the dope dealer that stole the number but accidentally killed the Hmong child.” The number referred to was Cohill’s “dope phone number that was placed on Facebook.” The information alleged that Jordan took part with three other shooters.

The email says Jordan made phone calls from prison after learning Darmequaye Cohill was “talking about others involved in this homicide” and, the email alleges, “the phone calls appear as though he may have been involved in this shooting as he was very nervous.” Wilke had monitored the phone calls. There was also a call between Jordan and his mother that is described in the memo in which they discussed Cohill. Jordan said Cohill was saying “sh*t” but he knows he wasn’t lying, the memo alleges.

In a September 2017 email, Wilke wrote, “Further intel today suggest that Crazy K was not even present at the homicide? Bless Team gave him a large amount of money and paid like $60,000 for an attorney that they guaranteed would get him off. Obviously did not turn out that way for him. So far two informants have relayed the same info in regards to Crazy K not being on the scene of the homicide.”

By November 2017, Cohill relayed to Corrections officials that he was ready to talk but he wanted his attorney present and wanted to wait until his father moved out of Milwaukee “because he fears for his father’s life.” He wasn’t worried about Jordan; he was worried about an unidentified person named the “Big Guy,” who “has more power and influence that (sic) all of the Bless Team put together.” He was the “guy from Chicago that is supplying all the drugs to the Bless Team.” The Corrections official relayed a street name he thought was this man.

The memo circled back to the later interview with a confidential source involving an investigator for Chisholm and two MPD detectives in 2017 relating to the Crivello threat investigation.

Although Jordan was acquitted of threatening Crivello in August 2021, his mother, Latasha Savage, 47, was sentenced to probation and a stayed prison term in 2019 for a charge of conspiracy to commit battery to a prosecutor.

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Trump Thwarts Haley in Her Native South Carolina, Rolls on to Michigan

Sweeping a fourth consecutive primary by a significant margin, former President Donald Trump left South Carolina victorious on Saturday and on a roll heading into Michigan on Tuesday.

Nikki Haley, two-term governor of South Carolina and a former United Nations ambassador in Trump’s administration, was overwhelmed in unofficial very early vote count totals. The race was called minutes after the closing of polls at 7 p.m. Eastern.

South Carolinians, who do not register by party and could choose to vote in either but not both primaries, in early voting exceeded the more than 131,000 votes cast – about 4% – in the Democratic primary on Feb. 3 when 96% chose President Joe Biden.

South Carolina has about 3.3 million registered voters and gets nine of the 538 Electoral College votes in November's general election.

At stake in the South’s first Republican primary were 50 delegates at the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee on July 15-18. Twenty-nine went to Trump as the statewide winner; three delegates each go to winners in the seven congressional districts, respectively. Those results were still pending at time of publication, though Trump was projected to up his total to 44 of the state's 50.

"I have never seen the Republican Party so unified as it is right now," Trump said in a victory speech that began minutes after the polls closed. "You can celebrate for about 15 minutes, but then we have to get back to work."

The nation’s 45th president added to previous caucuses and primary wins in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada, the first non-incumbent GOP candidate to open with such a sweep since 1976's primary and caucuses calendar change. Since 1980, only Newt Gingrich in 2012 won South Carolina's Republican primary without reaching the national ticket.

In a social media post in the final hour before polls closed, Haley wrote, "Filled with gratitude today. Getting to vote with my mom and my kids at my side is a memory I’ll cherish forever."

Immigration, inflation, energy, an America-first foreign policy and revenge from the 2020 loss to Biden have been hallmarks of the 77-year-old Trump’s campaign.

“No country could sustain what is happening to the United States of America,” Trump, during his victory speech, said of the ongoing situation at the U.S. border with Mexico. “Right now, our country is a laughing stock all over the world. Our country is going to be respected again, respected like never before.”

On the campaign trail in Rock Hill on Friday, Trump said Haley was staying in the race to help Democrats. The flip side is Haley’s supporters see Trump and his 91 criminal charges as the GOP choice that Democrats would want to face their candidate.

Trump also served up comments on race – sparking partisan critiques – when speaking to a friendly crowd at the Black Conservative Federation Gala in Columbia later in the evening.

Haley, 52, was in Greenville on Tuesday saying she’s campaigning to save the country, led by the topics of education, economy, immigration, homicides, fentanyl and foreign policy. She voted in Kiawah Island on Saturday morning, having spent Friday in Moncks Corner among other stops.

Haley says Trump brings chaos and will be unelectable in the general election, though national polls including The Center Square Voters’ Voice Poll disagree. In a Marquette Law School national poll released Wednesday, proposed 1-on-1 races have Haley defeating Biden 58%-42% and Trump beating Biden 51%-49%.

Prior to Saturday, Real Clear Politics' polling average showed Trump ahead of Haley 63%-32% in South Carolina. Nationally, the advantage climbs to 75%-17%.

While Haley has tirelessly been asked about stepping out of the race, campaign manager Betsy Ankney on Friday confirmed a “seven-figure” ad buy for Super Tuesday states. The March 5 primary schedule includes 15 Republican and 14 Democratic primaries.

(This is a developing story and will be updated.)

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Wisconsin GOP Congressmen: Evers Drew Congressional Maps He Wants Struck Down

(The Center Square) – Some of Wisconsin’s Republican congressmen say there is a problem with Gov. Tony Evers’ latest problems with the state’s political maps.

Evers this week asked the Wisconsin Supreme Court to take a look at the state’s congressional maps.

"MONDAY: I signed fair maps for Wisconsin’s Legislature," Evers tweeted Wednesday. "NEXT UP: fair maps for our congressional districts."

The liberal law firm The Elias Group has already asked the Wisconsin Supreme Court to reconsider the state’s congressional maps, just like the court reconsidered the state’s legislative maps.

The high court tossed those state maps back in December. But Wisconsin lawmakers ended the court’s review and replacement by passing Evers’ preferred maps for Assembly and Senate districts.

Western Wisconsin Republican Congressman Derrick Van Orden on Wednesday pointed out the Congressional maps are also Evers’ own.

“The maps are a 100% product of the Dems,” Van Orden said in a tweet. “Evers drew them. Zero Republicans voted for them. Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled them constitutional. US Supreme Court ruled them constitutional. This is a naked power Dem grab.”

WOW County Republican Congressman Scott Fitzgerald said the same thing.

“I’d like to remind @GovEvers that he is asking the State Supreme Court to review the Congressional maps HE drew,” Fitzgerald said in a tweet. “The map he is now seeking to overturn was drafted by Evers and based off a 2011 bipartisan map, approved by the liberals on the state Supreme Court and survived a challenge all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.”

Evers said reviewing the Congressional maps is part of his effort to “do the right thing.”

"We want to end gerrymandering in Wisconsin at every level, so I’m asking the Wisconsin Supreme Court to review our congressional maps to make sure those are fair, too."

The Wisconsin Supreme Court has not yet said what it plans to do with the challenge to the congressional maps.

school choice policies

Wisconsin Assembly Approves Plan to Splits Choice School Funding From Public Schools

(The Center Square) – Wisconsin is considering a massive shift in how public and choice schools get their money.

The Wisconsin Assembly approved the plan to decouple the Racine and statewide school voucher programs, replacing the local property tax money that currently pays for those programs with state dollars.

“Currently, legacy charter schools are completely funded by [general purpose revenues]. The Milwaukee Choice program will be funded completely by GPR by 2025,” Rep. Ellen Schutt, R-Clinton, said. “What this bill does, is says that new independent charter schools, and the rest of the choice program should also be funded by GPR and not by aid-reductions from the local school district.”

That would shift millions of dollars for choice schools in Wisconsin from local school districts to the state.

It would also mean a steadier and more reliable stream of dollars for choice schools.

“Decoupling resolves an issue that involves how the current funding mechanism affect public schools and property taxes. This has been a sore spot that creates unnecessary tension between public and private schools,” School Choice Wisconsin President Nic Kelly told The Center Square. “Decoupling is good tax policy that was already enacted for Milwaukee years ago. We want the rest of the state to be treated the same way.”

Decoupling would mean a boost for public schools. Schutt’s legislation would give public schools a one-time, 25% revenue limit increase. The legislature says that will cost as much as $351 million for the next school year.

Some public schools could end up losing money in general state aid, but the decouple legislation would hold them harmless.

“This bill will really help our public schools when they're setting their budgets every year, giving them some idea about how much money they truly will have,” Schutt added. “It will fix the confusion that is currently out there with the way we fund choice and charter, because it's different based on the type of school it is. We had some administrators come down to testify and say that this was really a great idea, and actually Gov. [Tony] Evers supported this idea when he was the superintendent back in 2015.”

Rep. Joel Kitchens, R-Sturgeon Bay, however said during debate on the plan that Evers’ office no longer wants to talk about decoupling.

The proposal next heads to the Wisconsin Senate.

Tyler August milwaukee drop boxes

Assembly Majority Leader Puts Responsibility on Milwaukee to Restore Faith in Vote Count

(The Center Square) – The number-two in the Wisconsin Assembly says if lawmakers can’t come to terms on an early count law, it is up to Milwaukee to restore the voters’ faith in their election operation.

Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu said he doesn’t have the votes to pass Monday Count legislation. It would allow Milwaukee to count ballots the day before election day in order to avoid an after-midnight vote dump.

Assembly Majority Leader Tyler August, R-Lake Geneva, said Republicans in the Senate should vote on the plan. If they don't, August said, then Milwaukee’s election managers need to act.

“It's incumbent upon the city of Milwaukee to get their act together and count those ballots during the day and have that done so that there isn't constantly this question about the processes in the city of Milwaukee,” August said.

Milwaukee uses a central count location, and election managers in the city say that slows down the counting of absentee ballots. Many times, that leaves a lull between when the votes from election day are tallied, and when the absentee vote count is delivered.

Critics say that lull, and the after-midnight ballot drop, leads to questions about election integrity in Milwaukee.

“People feel like the election is heading in one direction, [then] all the ballots come in at one time in the middle of the night, and it appears that there's some kind of nefarious nature to what's going on,” Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said Tuesday.

Critics of the Monday Count plan also see room for something nefarious. They fear that if Milwaukee has an absentee ballot count ahead of election day, then someone can somehow manufacture an exact number of votes to win.

August said other communities in Wisconsin don’t have the same troubles as Milwaukee and said that’s part of the problem.

“When I go to vote in the city of Lake Geneva they are processing those absentee ballots, there are hundreds of them in Lake Geneva, as well as a smaller staff, less election workers than in the city of Milwaukee has, and they're able to get those done and part of their report that they send into the county clerk by like 9 p.m.,” August said. “So, Milwaukee needs to take a look at what they're doing when it comes to counting absentee ballots, and for their own sake to prove to the people that their processes are secure, and safe, and fair. And get those reports in well before the middle of the night.”

Migrant Students Abbott's Defense of the Border

Denver Schools Facing ‘Unprecedented Challenge’ With Influx of Migrant Students

Denver’s public school system has been taking in as many as 250 new students a week since the new year, which it attributes to the increase in the number of migrants arriving in the city.

Denver Public Schools Superintendent Alex Marrero called the situation an “unprecedented challenge” in a message to the community posted on the district’s website. The district said the influx of new students will cost an additional $837,000 “to support additional needs across the system.”

From July 1, 2023 to January 2024, there were 3,221 new-to-country students with more than 1,300 coming to Denver schools since Oct. 1, 2023, the district stated.

The district is hiring more staff to deal with the increase in students and focusing on hiring people who are bilingual, according to the superintendent.

“The pace of new arrivals has remained steady since the start of 2024, with roughly 200-250 students joining us each week,” a report to the school board stated last week.

On Feb. 5, the city of Denver started enforcing 42-day limits on migrants living in city-owned shelters.

“We are watching enrollment data closely over the next few weeks to see if/how our student population moves in response,” the report stated.

The school district provides a phone number to call “to speak to someone in your language.”

The district has struggled with dwindling enrollment since the pandemic. Enrollment reached 93,800 in the 2019-20 school year and then fell to 90,300 in the 2020-2021 pandemic year. In 2021-22, enrollment stayed about the same at 90,250 and then dropped to 89,200 in 2022-23.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has been sending migrants from Texas to sanctuary cities across the U.S. On Feb. 12, Abbott posted on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, that Texas has bused more than 16,200 migrants to Denver.

"Texas will not stop until President Biden secures the border," Abbott stated on X.

Denver Public Schools did not respond to an email seeking comment.

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Wisconsin Assembly Eyes Limits on Governor’s Veto Powers

(The Center Square) – Republicans in the Wisconsin Assembly are taking the first step to reign in some of the governor’s veto power.

Lawmakers on Tuesday took up Assembly Joint Resolution 112, which would change the Wisconsin Constitution to stop the governor from raising a tax or a fee on his own.

“Wisconsin's unique partial veto is considered one of the most powerful policy tools in the country,” Rep. Amanda Nedweski, R-Pleasant Prairie, told reporters. “From Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson's infamous Vanna White veto, to Democrat Gov. Tony Evers 402-year tax increase, we have seen abuse of the partial veto addressed with proposed constitutional amendments by legislatures nearly 30 times in the last century.”

Nedweski said this proposed constitutional amendment would apply to Evers specifically, but would apply to all future governor’s as well by banning the governor from single handedly increasing taxes or creating fees.

“The will of the people is the law of the land, not the will of the governor,” Nedweski added. “This would appropriately rebalance power between the executive and the legislature, and further restrict the executive from completely rewriting the law. The governor is not a legislator, and the partial veto was not intended to give the governor legislative power.”

Tuesday's vote was the first vote for the plan. It would need to pass the legislature again next year before it would go to the voters, likely next spring.

“We very narrowly crafted this legislation to address the specific situations that we believe members of the public would find the most egregious, the ability for a single person to increase taxes or fees on the people of Wisconsin with the single stroke of a pen,” Nedweski said. “The people should not be subjected to political trickery that does not reflect their will as represented by their legislators.”

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