MILWAUKEE – A jury cleared three white former police officers of most charges in the 2004 brutal beating of a biracial man that enflamed racial tensions, but city officials vowed to ask federal prosecutors to consider pursuing the case.
An all-white jury deliberated for more than 26 hours and returned not guilty verdicts late Friday on the charges against Daniel Masarik and Andrew Spengler, both 26. John Bartlett, 34, was cleared on one charge but the jury deadlocked on a charge of substantial battery.
Prosecutors claimed the men beat Frank Jude Jr. on Oct. 24, 2004 because they thought he stole a badge at a party. District Attorney E. Michael McCann said the officers relied on a code of silence within the department to protect them.
"I am absolutely shocked and outraged by these verdicts," said Mayor Tom Barrett, who said he had already spoken to the U.S. Attorney about a possible civil rights action. "Mr. Jude was beaten badly and we need to hold accountable those who are responsible. This is not over."
McCann said he would pursue a retrial on the remaining charge against Bartlett, and also would ask the U.S. attorney to investigate whether federal charges could be filed.
"It was a despicable, vicious, cowardly act where a large number of men attacked an individual," he said. "It happened. This isn't the case of it not happening. We did not convince the jury that these were the individuals responsible."
Before the verdict was read, police in riot gear surrounded Milwaukee County Courthouse in the city, which is 37 percent black. Earlier this week, the NAACP and other black leaders asked the community to remain peaceful no matter what verdict jurors reached. Early Saturday, Police Chief Nan Hegerty urged residents to stay calm.
Inside, families of Jude and the defendants filled the courtroom gallery. Jude is in prison after having his parole revoked following a domestic dispute with his mother. A few gasped and some cried as the verdict was read. The defendants showed no emotion.
"I was numb. It was like `Mississippi Burning' all over again," said Jude's aunt, Doris Porter Jude.
The three men were among nine officers fired as a result of the beating outside a house in a mostly white, working-class neighborhood on the city's south side. Witnesses said they heard someone call Jude and a black friend racial slurs during the assault.
Jude, 27, of Appleton, said the group kicked and punched him, someone put a knife to his throat and someone stuck something in his ears. He couldn't identify his assailants but said he heard Spengler threaten him.
Defense lawyers had argued key witnesses were unreliable when they testified the men put Jude in the hospital with injuries that required reconstructive facial surgery.
All three men had been charged with substantial battery.
Masarik also faced a charge of recklessly endangering safety, and faces a charge of perjury that is scheduled to be tried in June. Bartlett also faced a charge of recklessly endangering safety. If convicted, Bartlett faced 22 1/2 years in prison, Masarik up to 19 1/2 and Spengler up to 3 1/2.
Bartlett's attorney, Gerald Boyle, said he had prepared his client for a guilty verdict, and was "elated with the outcome of this case." Steve Kohn, Masarik's lawyer, said he expected a not guilty verdict. Spengler's attorney, Michael Hart, said his client was "very, very relieved and thankful."