Federal investigation may begin today after 4 MPD officers charged

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Federal investigation may begin today after 4 MPD officers charged

By the WTMJ News Team. CREATED Oct 9, 2012 - UPDATED: Oct 10, 2012

MILWAUKEE - A federal investigation could begin as early as Wednesday after charges came down against four Milwaukee police officers connected to allegations of strip searches.

The Milwaukee County District Attorney's Office says that Officer Michael Vagnini faces 25 counts including sexual assault, strip search law violations and misconduct in public office.

Jeffrey Dollhopf, another officer, faces two counts each of strip search law violations and misconduct in public office.

Two officers, Brian Kozelek and Jacob Knight, face one count of strip search law violations and misconduct in public office.

"Quite frankly, I'm disgusted by the willful actions of some of the officers in our police department," said Chief Flynn at a news conference Tuesday afternoon.  "And I'm appalled by the willful inaction of some other officers in our police department."

The Journal Sentinel reports the four officers all pleaded not guilty Tuesday afternoon before Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Jeffrey Wagner, who presided over the secret John Doe investigation into the searches.

An investigation began in March into allegations involving District 5 police officers that may have broken department policy, as well as violated suspects' civil rights.

"The Milwaukee Police Department initiated this investigation," says Flynn.  "It was the Milwaukee Police Department that worked diligently, conscientiously and aggressively to get to the bottom of this case."

Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm confirmed during that press conference that Milwaukee Police Department's Internal Affairs Division initiated the investigation.

Sources told TODAY'S TMJ4 that officers with a special gang unit were performing illegal searches -- including cavity searches -- on suspects.  Those searches allegedly happened in the middle of the street, and sometimes at police stations.

At that point, seven police officers and a supervisor were re-assigned.

Flynn said Tuesday that the officers not charged in this investigation have been restored to regular duties.  Flynn said the officers charged in this case have had their police powers suspended, but will be paid.

Flynn said they are starting an internal investigation into this case, and once they conclude their investigation -- they will make recommendations to the Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission.

The Milwaukee County District Attorney's office began a John Doe investigation into the case back in March -- with the help of the Milwaukee Police Department and FBI, said Chisholm.

"During the investigation, it became clear that the mistreatment focused on the actions of select officers from District 5," said Chisholm at the press conference Tuesday afternoon.

Alleged victims came forward over a period of time in the spring of 2012.  Chisholm said the allegations dated back to 2010.

Chisholm said his office took complaints from "dozens and dozens" of people and followed up with each and every one of them.

"When they searched me, they eased their hands right between my (rear end)," claimed alleged victim Kevin Freem.

"I tried to reach back and soon as I tried to reach back to stop them, they slammed me on the ground."

"He pulled down my pants, touched my testicles...and pulled my drawers down and dug in my rectum," alleged another reported victim.

In June, seven people stepped forward to begin the process of filing lawsuits connected to the situation.

In early October, Chief Flynn spoke out about the expected charges.

"The illegal strip search case was discovered by this police department. Officers have told the truth in that investigation and there are going to be serious criminal charges announced soon," said Flynn.

Meanwhile, the FBI's law enforcement coordinator at the US Attorney's Office, Dean Puschnig, says there is no timetable on an investigation of the overall problems in Milwaukee's Police Department.

Chisholm said the FBI provided invaluable assistance in this strip search investigation.

Click here for an archive of stories on the controversy about alleged strip searches by Milwaukee Police.