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Lawmaker cuffed as he tries to defuse Milwaukee tension

Gretchen Ehlke
Associated Press

Milwaukee — A state lawmaker said Wednesday that police officers threw him to the ground and put him in handcuffs as he tried to de-escalate tensions after about 10 people were arrested at the scene of a recent fatal police shooting and violent unrest on Milwaukee’s north side.

Rep. Jonathan Brostoff, who represents the Wisconsin Assembly’s 19th District, said he went to the Sherman Park neighborhood about 10 p.m. Tuesday after hearing of the arrests. Milwaukee police said in a statement that residents had complained that about 30 to 40 people gathered around 8 p.m. near the area where Sylville Smith, 23, was fatally shot by an officer Aug. 13.

Police asked the crowd to disperse but some refused to leave, according to Sgt. Timothy Gauerke. About 10 were arrested for disorderly conduct and resisting an officer.

Brostoff, a Milwaukee Democrat, said most of the crowd had left and he was talking with the people who remained when police officers approached. Brostoff said the officers told him and Jarrett English, a youth organizer for the American Civil Liberties Union, that they heard cursing. He said officers threw English to the ground and handcuffed him. Brostoff said he started recording the incident on his cellphone, but police took his phone and threw him to the ground too.

“Then I was cuffed with zip ties and told to stand up, and they put me in the wagon,” he said.

Brostoff said he was “totally compliant,” did nothing wrong and was only in the neighborhood to help.

“I’m trying to make their (officers) jobs easier. The whole thing is so bizarre,” he said. After police learned he was a legislator, Brostoff said, he and English were released.

Brostoff said he wants to talk to Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and Police Chief Edward Flynn about the incident and that he planned to see a doctor Wednesday because his wrist was injured when he was taken to the ground.

Police have not responded to an email and phone call seeking comment.

Sherman Park was the scene of two nights of violence after Smith, a black man, was shot and killed by a black officer following a traffic stop. Police have said body-camera video shows Smith was holding a handgun and had turned toward the officer. The Wisconsin Department of Justice, which is investigating the shooting, has not released the video.

A few hours after Smith’s death, a protest erupted into violence in the largely black neighborhood. Eight businesses were burned and police with shields were the targets of rocks and other debris. Gunfire could be heard.