A year after an African-American man died while in police custody, one current and one police officer have been charged with crimes associated with his death.
Prosecutors alleged the cops were negligent in his care despite the arrestee’s need for medical attention.
Former Officer Donald Krueger of the Milwaukee Police Department was charged with felony abuse of a person in custody on Feb. 24. Officer Marco Lopez, who is still on the MPD, was charged with misconduct in office by making a false entry, a felony.
Both officers are charged in relation to the death of Keishon Thomas, a 20-year-old man who died of an acute mixture of drugs that included ecstasy, marijuana, and cocaine.
Civil rights attorney Ben Crump is representing Thomas’ family. The lawyer said, “Keishon’s death could have been prevented if the officers who were responsible for him at the time of his arrest followed the protocol. The role of police officers is to help people, but when Keishon needed help the most, he was ignored and left to die.”
Thomas was arrested on a bench warrant without incident after a traffic stop at nearly 2 a.m. on Feb. 23, 2022. Local station WITI reports that complications began when officers went to remove Thomas from the squad car upon arrival at the police station.
WITI reports that body camera video from one arresting officer shows that when the vehicle door was opened in the garage of the District 5 station, there was a plastic baggie on the floorboard of the compartment Thomas was in and a rock-like substance on the seat next to him. Thomas is shown lunging at the substance on the seat, leading officers to pull him out before he could ingest it.
Thomas would admit to officers before they got inside the station’s booking area that he’d swallowed all the drugs that apparently had been in the baggie, with the exception of the piece on the back seat.
Prosecutors say Thomas was clearly reacting to the narcotic concoction, including sweating, looking noticeably ill, and vomiting as Krueger booked him.
Video from inside the station shows the officer telling Thomas — who was objecting to going to a hospital — that he would call to get him medical attention but never contacted an EMT.
Thomas was placed in a holding cell sometime around 3 .a.m and remained there until Krueger was relieved of his post hours later. Lopez took over the booking duty but also did not call an ambulance or check on Thomas, prosecutors say.
The MPD originally reported both Krueger and Lopez conducted “multiple cell checks,” however, investigators concluded that Lopez missed 10 checks between 9:15 a.m. and 3 p.m.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that investigators found that Lopez falsely claimed on a log to be making the checks every 15 minutes when in fact, he was looking at his cellphone and a tablet, doing something on his computer, and even painting.
At 5:43 p.m., another booking officer who had taken over from Lopez discovered Thomas unresponsive in his cell. The young father of two would be pronounced dead less than 40 minutes later.
“Officer Lopez lied about following protocol and checking on the inmate he was responsible for, and Krueger didn’t give Keishon the medical attention he obviously needed when he saw him dry heave,” Crump said.
An autopsy stated the drugs caused his death.
After Thomas’ death, the two officers were suspended.
As the charges were announced, Lopez, who has more than 12 years of experience with the force, remains on the force and continues to be on suspension. Once reprimanded by the department, Krueger retired in November after 25 years of service and now faces charges as a civilian.
The Milwaukee Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression (MAARPR) said it is not enough to just indict Krueger and Lopez. In a statement, the organization expressed, “While we recognize these charges as progress, there were a total of 13 other officers on duty who were responsible also for Thomas at the time of his death.”
They also argued the MPD has not been transparent throughout the investigation and has been harassing the family over the last year.
“We are demanding for policy changes that ensure transparency and accountability from MPD. The fight for transparency and accountability gets results the fastest with fighting families and community organizations,” the organization added, “The results of this investigation would not have been possible without Thomas’ family, who helped politicize the issue.”
The MPD has released a statement saying the investigation has been done with the utmost professionalism.
“The Milwaukee Police Department holds all members to the highest degree of integrity and if any member violates the code of conduct they will be held accountable,” the statement said.
“Our members must not discredit what this department stands for, particularly when taking an oath to preserve and protect life,” the agency reported. “The Milwaukee Police Department extends its deepest sympathies to the Thomas family on the loss of their loved one.”