A federal magistrate judge has ruled in favor of Gingras, Thomsen & Wachs client Isaiah Taylor, who was detained and questioned as a minor while he was attempting to drop off a frozen turkey for one of his neighbors for Christmas.
At about 7 p.m. on the night of December 21, 2015, police officers Justin Schwarzhuber and Jasen Rydzewski observed a young African American boy — later identified as Taylor, the son of State Sen. Lena Taylor — run across the street holding what appeared to be a bag.
As Taylor passed the squad car, the officers turned on the squad’s lights and ordered him to stop. Taylor immediately complied and was given a pat-down search. The search did not uncover a weapon. Instead, it revealed that the brown paper bag Taylor carried contained a frozen turkey.
At this point, the officers did not let Taylor go and placed Taylor in the back of the squad car where he was questioned further and held while they ran his name through the database, hoping to find an outstanding warrant. The officers only released Taylor after the records check came back negative for an outstanding warrant.
Because the officers released Taylor without an arrest or a ticket, they did not write any reports about the incident. The computer-aided dispatch report indicated that the officers stopped a black male for suspicious activity and the whole stop lasted about 20 minutes.
After the family’s concerns about the incident went ignored by the City of Milwaukee, Sen. Taylor urged her son to file a civil rights lawsuit against the two involved police officers and the City of Milwaukee in April of 2021. The family’s attorney is GTW partner Mark Thomsen.
The lawsuit alleges that the officers violated Isaiah’s constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 by keeping him in their squad car and continuing to question him, even after it was discovered he was carrying a frozen turkey in the bag.
“I have been pushing my city to get it right for a long time,” said Mark Thomsen. “The judge was very, very clear that once they knew it was a turkey, they had no right to detain him, arrest him, put him in the car and question him, even though they didn’t handcuff him, even though they were allegedly nice.”
The judge’s ruling that there is sufficient evidence to establish that Taylor’s constitutional rights had been violated is now in the hands of the Milwaukee City Attorney, City Council and Mayor to decide whether the City will continue to use taxpayer dollars to defend the officers or reach a settlement.
“Until my department, my city, insists on training its officers to do the right thing and act in a constitutional manner, we’re going to continue to have unlawful stops,” said Mark Thomsen.
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