Updated at 3:52 p.m.
A former Milwaukee police officer who was fired for racially insensitive social media posts appealed his termination during a two-day hearing before the Fire and Police Commission. But he will not be getting his job back, as the commission upheld the decision to fire him.
In January, Erik Andrade was one of several Milwaukee police officers involved in a controversial altercation with Milwaukee Bucks player Sterling Brown.
The officers confronted Brown in a Walgreens parking lot on the city’s south side for parking across two handicapped spaces. Body cam footage showed Brown being tackled to the ground and tased. Brown was arrested but was not charged.
Several of the officers were disciplined. Andrade was the only one to be fired. However, not for his role in the arrest but his social media conduct afterward.
Andrade posted mocking Facebook comments, such as, “Nice meeting Sterling Brown of the Milwaukee Bucks at work this morning!" Andrade also took a jab at a Cleveland Cavaliers player, saying he hoped the player would double park at a Walgreens when he's in Milwaukee.
In September, Police Chief Alfonso Morales announced Andrade’s termination, which Andrade is now appealing.
Morales testified before the Fire and Police Commission Tuesday. He explained his decision, reading from the police department's rules regarding use of social media:
“As public employees, members do not lose their rights under the First Amendment of the U.S. and Wisconsin constitutions. However, speech, on or off duty, pursuant to your official duties and professional responsibilities as members of the Milwaukee Police Department is not protected. Members are free to express themselves as private citizens on SNSs to the degree that their speech is not disruptive to the mission of the department,” he said.
Morales says Andrade’s posts would make him ineligible to testify in other cases in the future. That’s because the posts could be considered offensive, the chief says, causing some people to call Andrade's credibility into question.
“To be able to testify, we come across several types of investigations on a daily basis and a person who loses the ability to testify in court. I cannot risk having a high-profile case where that person is the key witness and person to testify in court that can ruin that case,” Morales said.
Andrade’s attorney Brenden Matthews, meanwhile, made the case for his client while cross-examining Morales. Matthews asked whether there was anything to support that Andrade would not be able to testify in other cases.
“Are you aware of any state law, local law, municipal ordinance, federal law, that says specifically that in this situation officer Andrade can’t testify?” he asked.
Matthews also questioned whether it's fair to consider Andrade's Facebook posts offensive. The attorney argued that not everyone takes things the same way. And Matthews drilled Morales about Andrade’s character on the job.
The hearing concluded Wednesday at City Hall.
Local groups that monitor police-community relations are paying attention to the proceedings. Markasa Tucker, director of the African-American Roundtable, says Andrade has the right to appeal his firing.
But Tucker says if the Fire and Police Commission gives Andrade his job back, it would “be one sad day, yet again in Milwaukee, to be a person of color.”
Support for Race & Ethnicity reporting is provided by the Dohmen Company.
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