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New Journal Sentinel Series Looks Into Tangled Web Of Dysfunction In Milwaukee

A new four-part series from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel explores a sexual assault investigation to look at the political favoritism in Milwaukee.

In 2019, a woman came forward to the Milwaukee Police Department reporting that in 2014 she had been raped and possibly drugged by Kalan Haywood Sr., a prominent real estate investor. But as the Milwaukee Police Department conducted their investigation, the woman — identified only as Jane Doe — claimed her rights were being violated as the department failed to notify her about important developments in the investigation.

The department has since settled a lawsuit and the investigation has been handed over to the Wisconsin Department of Justice.

This mishandled rape allegation is the center of a new four-part series written by Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporters Ashley Lutheran and Gina Barton. The series dives into an interconnected web of Milwaukee figures, many of whom are more interested in gaining power than helping the city and its residents.

READ: How a rape case exposed a tangled web of dysfunction in Milwaukee

“This story is basically using that sexual assault investigation as a window into all of the cronyism and political favoritism that goes on in Milwaukee,” says Barton.

As the story grew to look at many of Milwaukee’s political systems as a whole including the mayor’s office, the Common Council and the Fire and Police Commission, they created a literal web to understand the connections in their story. Along with the written story, readers are able to interact with the web.

One thing Barton says she realized from looking at the web was that almost everyone on the web is a man.

“There are very few women in it and that just, I think illustrates how few women hold powerful positions in Milwaukee and in the police department,” she says.

Another issue covered in the story is the long and difficult relationship between Milwaukee’s Black community and the police.

One person placed on the web is Steven DeVougas, former leader of the Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission and a lawyer for Kalan Haywood’s real estate company.

After DeVougas went to a police interview with Haywood, calls for an investigation into his tie to Haywood came out. DeVougas claimed it was because he was a Black leader in Milwaukee.

“You had Steven DeVougas basically saying, 'I’m a strong Black man in Milwaukee and I’m trying to change and make things better for the African American community here and that’s why people are trying to keep me down,'” she says. “Then you had the police union and others saying, 'No, what you did was unethical and corrupt and that would be true whatever race you are.'”

Barton says one problem they had to overcome was writing this long and complicated piece was how to make it interesting yet still felt real. She says often people think if reads like fiction then they don’t realize everything that they reading is real.

“The story is 100% true, we have heard from lots of people who were, kind of, on the inside during a lot of these goings on who have said, 'Wow, you nailed it,'” she says.

Barton says a main point of this project was to show people that many of the systems that have created these issues have not changed. “Almost all of the things that were in place in terms of rules and laws in the city that were in place when this whole thing happened are still in place now. Very few things have changed,” she says.  

Joy Powers is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.
From 2020 to 2021, Jack was WUWM's digital intern and then digital producer.