Friday, July 12, 2024
Friday, July 12, 2024

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DA Chisholm’s Office Flips After Scrutiny, Is Now Charging River Hills Suspect


Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm’s office has flipped after intense scrutiny and is now criminally charging a River Hills suspect with receiving stolen property just hours after River Hills police told the public the DA wouldn’t charge the case and Wisconsin Right Now blew up the story.

However, WRN has also learned, from a courthouse source, that Chisholm’s office also refused to charge the same suspect, Alan Hernandez-Meraz, 20, of Milwaukee, after MPD referred robbery charges last March.

The news about the criminal charge in the July case out of River Hills came from the River Hills police chief, who told WRN he received the information at 12:25 p.m. “I’m very happy,” Chief Milton Mrozak said.

About six hours before the about-face on suspect Alan Hernandez-Meraz, River Hills police went public on Facebook and revealed that the DA’s office was refusing to charge the suspect, even though they found him in the stolen car sleeping with suspected meth and the car keys and a homeowner’s stolen ID in his pocket. Wisconsin Right Now then blew up the story, reporting multiple angles on it, such as that Hernandez-Meraz is wanted out of Racine on serious felony charges and is now sitting in the Waukesha County Jail on an immigration hold.

After we learned that Hernandez-Meraz had a pending Waukesha County court case for cocaine and marijuana possession, WRN confirmed that Hernandez-Meraz is in the Waukesha County Jail through jail records. We then contacted Waukesha County Sheriff Eric Severson; Severson confirmed to WRN that Hernandez-Meraz has an ICE immigration hold. Severson is not able to provide the reason, as the screening of inmates is done on ICE’s end, but he confirmed the hold.

Sheriff Severson has been a leader among sheriffs when it comes to immigration enforcement. The sheriff applied for and received legal status to screen inmates for immigration status in the Waukesha County Jail, a process called 287(g). It’s a dramatic contrast to Milwaukee County, where the Sheriff’s Department has refused to cooperate with ICE about inmates in its jail. Because of Severson’s actions, were Lopez to post bail, ICE would keep him in custody..

DA Chisholm’s spokesman Kent Lovern responded to our request for comment, saying, “The case is still under review by our office.”

We placed an open records request with the Milwaukee County Jail, where he was initially booked (according to the River Hills police chief), for more details on his background via the arrest-detention report and a mugshot.

There is an Alan Hernandez-Meraz who is wanted on a July 27, 2023, warrant out of Racine on criminal charges from that county for almost the same thing: Burglary, theft, and taking an auto without owner’s consent. He has the same birth year as the River Hills suspect, but a juxtaposed month/day in CCAP (4/9/02 vs 9/4/02). The River Hills police chief told us that his agency believes the Hernandez-Meraz wanted in Racine is the same person as the River Hills suspect.

There is a person on Facebook with that name, also from Milwaukee, who has posted a picture of guns. We are also trying to verify whether that is the same person; they look very similar.

Alan Hernandez-Meraz, with the same DOB as the River Hills suspect (9/4/02), has an open case out of Waukesha County for cocaine and marijuana possession. He was released on $1,500 cash bail in that case but didn’t show up for court and a warrant was issued, and bail was increased. He required a Spanish interpreter at his initial appearance in March 2023. Another warrant was issued and then bail was reduced to $250 on July 27, 2023 (he won’t be bailed out again, though, because of the ICE hold). There was a “return on warrant” listed on August 2, 2023.

River Hills Police Chief Milton Mrozak told WRN he gets the DA’s office in Milwaukee County has caseload issues. However, he said the DA not prosecuting cases is “happening more,” and added, “it gets frustrating for officers and staff. They’re doing a job. They’re doing their best, knowing that probably there will be nothing coming from it other than a no process.”

In fact, the day before, a man led a River Hills officer on a police pursuit. It lasted about a mile before the person pulled over. Chisholm’s office wouldn’t charge that case either, the chief said.

Mrozak said investigating the stolen car situation took 24-48 hours and a lot of resources for a small department like River Hills.

The River Hills’ police statement comes on the heels of our reporting, starting in 2021, that Milwaukee County DA John Chisholm’s office does not charge about a large percentage of felonies (and a larger percentage of misdemeanors). Today, we reported on the findings of a new Wisconsin Policy Forum report that reveals Chisholm’s charging rate was even worse in 2022.

River Hills police cited that report, commissioned in part by the Argosy Foundation, in their statement. “A recent study from Wisconsin Policy Forum showed that only 39.7% of cases referred to the Milwaukee County DA’s Office in 2022 were actually charged,” they wrote.

In the recent car theft case, River Hills police wrote that, during the afternoon of July 22nd, “a resident’s home was burglarized. During the burglary numerous items were stolen and a vehicle was stolen out of the garage.”

Early the next morning, “roughly 14 hours later, we were able to find the vehicle in Milwaukee. The vehicle was parked and in the driver’s seat there was a subject sleeping. In his pocket were the vehicle’s keys and a card belonging to the homeowner,” police wrote. “Throughout the car were numerous items taken from the car. And also in the vehicle were documents that were stolen in a previous burglary in Racine County.”

The case was presented to the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office, according to police, “and they refused to go forward with any charges. No charges of Burglary, Theft of Movable Property, Operating a Vehicle W/O Owner’s Consent, or even Possession of Stolen Property. A subject was in the stolen vehicle, surrounded by stolen items, with stolen property in his pocket and not even a Possession of Stolen Property charge.”

We would note that the Milwaukee DA is refusing to release the names of people he doesn’t charge, denying our open records request for them in 2021. AG Josh Kaul’s office refused to rule on our open records complaint against Chisholm.

We filed an open records request with River Hills police for the police reports. We have also contacted the Milwaukee County DA’s office for comment.

The chief told us previously that he believes that even if it couldn’t be proven that the suspect was the burglar, he doesn’t see why a receiving stolen property charge couldn’t be made. Although you’d have to prove the suspect knew it was stolen, he believes the facts, if taken by an aggressive prosecutor to a jury, could result in conviction. He believes there was probable cause for a burglary charge, too.

“In this case, I think that bar can be reached,” he said. “He had a person’s ID card and key fob and stuff. I think a jury could look at this and say, ‘This defense is crap.’ It entails the prosecutor having to work to make the case go.”

The chief said Alan Hernandez-Meraz invoked his right to stay silent.

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