Two African-American church ministers who say they were racially profiled on their way home from fishing last year have sued Waukesha County and two sheriff’s deputies on claims they violated the fishermen’s civil rights.
Demetrius Williams and John Patterson, both in their 50s, were in Patterson’s Chevy Silverado on the shoulder of I-94 in Brookfield around noon in May because a tire had gone flat on the boat trailer they were towing.
A deputy pulled up and asked if they had guns or drugs, then demanded their licenses and checked them for warrants but never asked if they needed any assistance. The men said they felt treated like criminal suspects.
“Had Plaintiffs been white this would not have happened,” their federal lawsuit alleges.
A faith-based community action group, Common Ground, held a news conference outside the Waukesha County Courthouse in August to tell the pastors’ story and seek other drivers’ experiences with Waukesha County sheriff’s deputies.
Waukesha County Sheriff Eric Severson responded then that Williams’ and Patterson’s concerns were fully investigated and there was no evidence race factored into any of the deputy’s actions and that he didn’t violate any policy, training or procedures. Severson said the full report was given to Common Ground prior to its news conference.
On Wednesday, the group staged another news conference at Community Baptist Church in Sherman Park to announce the lawsuit and results of its investigation.
“We want to let people know we don’t just have to take this treatment,” said Patterson.
Organizers highlighted one of the many responses to their August outreach about other encounters. Susan Herro of Oconomowoc, who said she is white, wrote to Severson to say how differently she was treated when her car had spun out, and that she does not believe the deputies’ treatment of Williams and Patterson was not motivated by race.
“Please, consider that your deputies acted erroneously and do something about changing this,” Herro wrote. “You may hang your hat on the fact that there was no detention, arrest, etc., but you know that this is only because those two men had the wherewithal to endure this disrespect. No doubt they have had much practice.”
The men are represented by veteran civil rights attorney Mark Thomsen. Their suit claims white deputies Erik Michalsen and Michael Powell violated their Fourth Amendment rights to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures and their 14th Amendment right to equal protection under the law.
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Source: Journal Sentinel