It is difficult to discern what the most egregious act of injustice was during the criminal case involving Frank Jude and the police department of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The brutal beating the young man incurred, which clearly transgressed the line from a mere drubbing to wanton, pernicious acts of torture, would appear to lead the unspeakable travesty that would befall him in the months and years following his initial 2004 encounter with this police department. However, the duplicity involved in the farce of the investigation that was filed, culminating in the state trial in which justice was made a mockery of, is equally if not more so insidious because it directly deceived not only Jude and his civil rights, but also those of all others who depend on the criminal justice system for some semblance of righteousness. Or, quite possibly the most disturbing if not outright criminal aspect of this case was the lenient sentencing handed down (Diedrich), which will certainly not dissuade other police officers from following in the footsteps of those charged during this case from committing similar acts of violence and abuses of authority. Regardless of which one of these perversions of justice is worse, this case makes it quite clear that ethical boundaries of the criminal justice system in America have once again been crossed resulting in a dearth of public trust in this system and its many constituents.
This dramatic event in the life of Jude all began in October of 2004 when Jude and a male associate, Lovell Harris, and two women attended a party hosted by Milwaukee police officer Jon Bartlett. The party was attended by a multitude of off-duty police officers, and the two young men quickly decided that they wanted to leave. Before they were able to do so, however, Bartlett claimed that his wallet and his police badge had been stolen. The foursome were promptly surrounded by as many as perhaps 10 off duty officers who threatened them with racial epithets in attempts to procure the missing items. Harris was cut in the face by the off duty officers, yet managed to evade them and avoid any further beating. Jude, however, was taken to the ground by one of the officers, hand-cuffed, and incurred a devastating amount of physical punishment. The savagery to describe the inflictions was almost unspeakable. Jude was lifted into the air so that his groin could be exposed and kick. Sharp objects (a pen) were placed in both of his ears and ripped apart (No author). Two of his fingers were bent out of shape until they were broken, and he was kicked and punched repeatedly in the head and in the body until he was grotesquely disfigured (No author). While the women with him had the presence of mind to call the police in attempts to stop the beating, one of the two officers that arrived joined in torturing the young man, while the other simply watched.
Photographs of Jude's disfigured face and body made the headlines throughout Milwaukee and around the nation, as did the news that the damage was suffered through wanton police brutality. The public outcry was most heartfelt in Milwaukee, which functioned as the epicenter for the public betrayal by the very servants of justice it depended on for. The graphic images of Jude's swollen head, eyes, broken fingers, and ruptured ears were adjudged even worse due to the racial overtones of the incident. All of the officers who participated in the acts of brutality are white; Harris is African-American while Jude is mulatto (Diedrich). The abuse of police authority was deservingly exacerbated by the fact that the victims were African-Americans. African-Americans have suffered a lengthy, ignoble history of repeated police brutality, torture, and acts of murder. The Jude incident was viewed as a continuation of this unjust tradition. From an individual perspective, as well, the anger and disgust at the fact that the young men had committed no vestige of a criminal act, and were simply accused of doing so largely on the basis of their race, caused an intense public fervor that lamented the lack of justice and disregard of the public's opinion.
However, the public's reaction would considerably worsen in the days to follow, largely due to the efforts of a number of Milwaukee police officials who never had any intentions of establishing a degree of parity in the enforcement of the law -- once it applied to them. Therein lies the crux of the ethical dilemma regarding the Jude's case. The Milwaukee police department, much like any other police department in the United States, is a fraternal organization in which the fealty is often extended to those within that organization before it is to those outside of it. This allegiance is the source of a conflict of interest due to the fact that the primary job of the police force is to protect and serve the public. Initially, this ethical conflict was virtually non-existent during the mockery of the investigation that followed in the wake of Jude's beating, because the priorities of virtually all parties involved -- on the side of the police -- were extremely partisan and only reflected the interest of the police as a unit. The culpability of the officers who were eventually convicted in this case was exceedingly difficult to determine early, due to the lack of cooperation which largely became known as the police code of silence.
This lack of cooperation began at the scene of the crime, in which Jude was the only one arrested (on charges of stealing) (Diedrich). The crime scene was not secured, there was a dearth of physical evidence, and the officers who would go on to face convictions were allowed to communicate with one another and leave the scene -- rights that ordinary suspects are never granted in a proprietorial police investigation looking to disseminate justice. Moreover, virtually all of the police officers questioned about this case of police brutality claimed that they could provide no information about it. This lack of information was all the more revealing in light of the fact that in the spring of 2005 nine police officers were fired in the city of Milwaukee, while three were suspended and one was demoted. This action on the part of the police chief Nannette Hegerty was demonstrative of some form of discipline, which was curiously at odds with the ability of the criminal justice system to make any inroads in its investigation until a "a secret John Doe hearing convened in late 2004 to force officers to talk" (Diedrich). The disparities between the measures required to gain insight into this investigation and those which involve the general public are quite apparent; there is never a secret "John Doe" hearing required for investigations that do not involve police or governmental employees. Moreover, not even prosecutors were able to get transcripts from the secret hearing (No author).
The double standard that the criminal justice system operates on would become all the more apparent at the state trial that ensued. The aforementioned hearing was able to produce three suspects, Andrew Spengler, Bartlett and Daniel Masarik. Despite testimony from Harris and others who were near the crime scene, the police department members questioned during the hearing all adhered to their code of silence, maintaining that they did not see or hear of anything related to police brutality. Not surprisingly, the men were acquitted of virtually all of the charges they faced. Yet the rendering of justice was decidedly suspect. Some of the officers gave reports that conflicted with those in the John Doe hearing regarding their involvement in the case. The public was led to believe that out of reports that despite the fact that numerous police officers were purportedly at Bartlett's property during the time that Jude was attacked, none of them were aware of any acts of violence committed against him. Again, this was stated in sworn testimony by a plethora of police officers, who are trained and paid to regularly watch, notice, and observe acts that are contrary to laws. The conflict of interest between the fraternal ties of the Milwaukee police and their charge to protect the surrounding citizens was never more apparent.
And it was never more misplaced, either, as the subsequent federal court case would demonstrate. The public's indignation at the verdict, and at its misplaced faith in the hands of the law enforcement agency in Milwaukee, led to petitions and protests for federal charges against those involved in this tragedy. The magnitude of the second trial was in accordance with the public response. Whereas in the state trial the defendants had been charged with felony counts of reckless endangerment and battery, U.S. Attorney General Steven Biskupic charged the three officers, and a fourth Ryan Packard, with conspiracy to violate the civil rights of Jude and Harris. The weightier charge indicated the nature of the cover-up the Milwaukee police department had propagated, and was demonstrative of the inhumane treatment…