10/20/2006

Six federal police indictments in Milwaukee

The Associated Press

MILWAUKEE- Six former and current Milwaukee police officers, including three who had been acquitted of most state charges in the beating of a biracial man, were indicted on federal civil rights violation charges in the assault.

U.S. Attorney Steve Biskupic said charges could be brought against other officers as authorities delve into suspected efforts to cover up the beating of Frank Jude Jr. at an October 2004 party attended by a number of off-duty officers.

"No proper police procedures justify the actions against Frank Jude Jr.," Biskupic said at a news conference Thursday. All of the accused are white.

Federal officials had said after an all-white jury acquitted former officers Jon Bartlett, Daniel Masarik and Andrew Spengler in April of most of the state charges the men were facing that they would consider pursuing civil rights charges.

Jude, 28, has said a group of white men who identified themselves as off-duty police officers kicked and punched him, put a knife to his throat and jammed a pen in his ears as he begged for mercy.

The men accused Jude of stealing a police badge, but no badge was found and Jude was not charged with theft.

According to the criminal complaint, Spengler, Bartlett, Masarik, Ryan Lemke and Ryan Packard brandished knives as they surrounded Jude's vehicle and pulled out Jude and his friend Lovell Harris, who is black. The officers intimidated the men and two white women with them into submitting to a search for the badge, the complaint said.

The complaint also said the men and others held Harris at knifepoint while they assaulted Jude, who suffered facial injuries that required reconstructive surgery.

The latest indictments bring the total number of officers and former officers charged in the case to eight. A former officer and a suspended officer agreed this month to plead guilty to violating Jude's civil rights.

Bartlett's lawyer Gerald Boyle said he expected the federal case would cover territory similar to the previous trial _ except there will be more witnesses and probably more of them admitting they previously lied.

"The government will try the case a little differently, but they still have the same horses they have to rely on," he said.

Messages seeking comment were left Thursday evening for attorneys who have represented some of the other defendants in the past.

Racial tensions in Milwaukee were inflamed after the all-white jury returned not guilty verdicts against Masarik and Spengler. The panel cleared Bartlett on one charge but deadlocked on a charge of substantial battery against him. Defense lawyers had argued that key witnesses were unreliable.

Bartlett, Masarik, Spengler and Lemke are former officers, while Packard is a current officer who was suspended Thursday. Each faces one count of conspiring to violate the civil rights of Jude and one of his friends and one count of violating Jude's civil rights by assaulting him, according to the criminal complaint.

The sixth man charged Thursday, former officer Joseph Stromei, has agreed to plead guilty to obstruction of justice for lying to investigators, according to a criminal complaint.

All six face a maximum of 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 (euro199,000) if convicted.

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