12 More Black Men Step Forward as Victims of Illegal Strip Searches in Milwaukee


Officers charged in illegal strip search case Twelve more Black male residents of Milwaukee have come forward claiming to be victims of a string of illegal strip searches conducted by officers from 2008 to 2012.

According to a motion filed in federal court in Milwaukee, the group is seeking to join one of several pending federal civil rights cases that have been filed against the police department.

The Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel reported that the strip searches took place in District 5 for roughly four years, and resulted in nearly 50 people filing claims against the Milwaukee Police Department.

Some of those who have already filed claims against the city and the police department say they were subjected to the illegal searches on multiple occasions.

Of the 47 people who filed claims, all of them are Black and only one is a female, suggesting that the illegal searches were a part of a “racially motivated conspiracy,” the motion filed on Thursday alleged.

All of the officers involved were a part of District 5’s anti-gang unit and are being accused of attempting to “deprive Black residents of their constitutional rights.”

The conspiracy started as a result of the “proactive policing” strategy launched by chief Edward Flynn.

The new strategy “encouraged and rewarded high-volume traffic stops, field interviews, searches and arrests in the African-American “high crime” neighborhoods of District 5,” the motion states.

None of the police officers in the District 5 anti-gang unit were African-American.

The “proactive policing” strategy has left quite an impression on residents who were living within District 5 at the time and witnessed police cars coming into their neighborhood in long lines as they prepared to make an arrest.

The line of police cars were so long that many residents referred to it as “the train.”

Since the investigations into the strip searches were launched, changes have been made within Milwaukee’s District 5 anti-gang unit.

Former officer Michael Vagnini, who usually led “the train,” was convicted of four felonies and four misdemeanors as a result of the illegal searches.

More black men step forward in illegal cavity search case
Milwaukee police Officer Michael Vagnini (right) makes his initial court appearance in Milwaukee County Circuit Court in 2012. (Credit: Mark Hoffman/Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel)

Three other officers pleaded no contest to misdemeanor charges and were forced to resign.

Former Sgt. Jason Mucha was also allegedly involved in the illegal searches and often rode in the back of “the train” when the officers entered the District 5 neighborhoods.

Mucha had been recently promoted to sergeant in 2005, although at least nine defendants in unrelated cases accused him of beating them or planting drugs on them.

Some defendants claimed Mucha was guilty of both beating them and planting drugs on them.

In 2006, another man came forward with similar accusations, which eventually pushed Mucha to retire from the force.

He claimed that the stress over the investigations and the constant media coverage forced him to spiral into depression and paranoia as he fought with thoughts of suicide.

Police spokesperson, Mark Stanmeyer, said that the department does not comment on any pending litigation.

According to court records, complaints about illegal cavity searches were frequent at the department, but in most cases no action was taken.

In 2010, a complaint from a man who began bleeding from his anus was considered to be “baseless” by the department and the complaint was dismissed.

In 2011, another person who claimed to receive injuries from an illegal cavity search filed a complaint, but the investigation was dropped after that person died from an unrelated cause.

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