How a single shooting costs taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars

Posted: 8:38 AM, Jul 30, 2021
Updated: 2021-07-30 19:24:06-04

MILWAUKEE — The second a trigger is pulled in the City of Milwaukee, it sets off an expensive chain reaction impacting the victim, the suspect and every resident in the State of Wisconsin.

“The young man who shot me, hit the window with the gun,” Claude Motley recalled near the scene where he was shot. “I took off and he shot the car.”

It’s been seven years since Motley was shot near 63rd and Capitol; his story is detailed in the documentary, “When Claude Got Shot,” directed by Brad Lichtenstein.

Claude Motley's x-ray after shooting
Claude Motley's Doctor shows an X-Ray of the damage on his jaw in the documentary, "When Claude Got Shot"

Claude was visiting from his home in North Carolina for a high school reunion. He dropped off a friend at home when a teenager tried to carjack him.

“The bullet shattered my jaw,” Motley said. “I drove myself to St. Joseph’s and from then, the process started.”

That process included more than 12 surgeries, travel to and from North Carolina, studies for the bar exam he had to put on hold, lost wages, physical and emotional pain and the realization he was inches away from losing his life.

“God is good,” Motley said. “I was blessed. Not everyone gets those blessings.”

Claude Motley shows his scars

The medical bills began to pile up. Because Motley couldn’t work, his insurance company dropped him after one missed payment. The second insurance company dropped him because he didn’t have enough benefits to cover the surgeries he needed to survive.

And the third insurance company dropped him because of a “pre-existing condition” since he was now the victim of a shooting.

“It was excuse after excuse,” Motley said. “I had to fight with the insurance companies to pay for things.”

In total, Claude says he owed $134,365.91 in medical bills. He’s grateful to be in a better situation than most financially: his wife is an attorney, he has his law degree and he received $40,000 from the State of Wisconsin’s Victim’s Compensation Fund. The fund was created to help innocent victims with their medical bills. The above graph shows how many millions are spent each year on victims. While Claude received the maximum, $40,000, it's not frequently the case. According to the Wisconsin Department of Justice, since 2016, the Victim Compensation Program has paid out $21,428,041.10 to 13,139 people, for an average compensation of $1,630.87.

But still, after seven years, he still owes close to $40,000. But including the soft costs from his lost wages, potential earnings had he passed the bar exam, travel and more, it’s impossible to tell just how much money this cost him personally.

Claude figuring out bills
The documentary gives a raw look at the stress of figuring out the costs of this shooting in Claude's family.

“That’s a hefty amount,” Motley said. “At one time, you could say, it was for sitting in front of a person’s house, I accrued that debt. That’s something I can’t use to invest in my children, invest in my retirement. That’s something I have to give someone else for something I didn’t even do wrong.”

While Claude’s costs are exorbitant, the societal costs also grew exponentially from that one trigger pull. The I-Team tried to put together a rough idea of how much a single shooting costs taxpayers, and work that out to a rough annual rate.

The Milwaukee Police Department immediately came out to investigate. According to MPD, during a typical shooting investigation, anywhere from six to eight officers come out, averaging 2.5 hours on the scene. In addition, up to two Sergeants, three Detectives and a forensic investigator participate. The detective could add another two hours in additional investigative time with paperwork and other filing after the scene is cleared.

Based on MPD’s assessment of an average shooting and the City of Milwaukee’s current budget, including officer pay rates, processing a single shooting scene costs $15,617.84.

In 2020, there were 764 non-fatal shootings. By that rate, in 2020, by far the most violent year in Milwaukee history for non-fatal shootings, these investigations cost Milwaukee taxpayers $11,932,029.80.

And the process has only just gotten started.

The teen who shot Claude, 15-year-old Nathan King, was caught a few days later after he was shot himself trying to rob a woman in Milwaukee. He was paralyzed from the waist down.

King’s arrest started the next, even more expensive phase of a shooting: the criminal justice process.

The Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office estimates the District Attorney spends roughly 133 hours on a non-fatal shooting case. A public defender likely spends about the same amount of time. The presiding judge will likely spend about 50 hours on one case.

Cost of investigating a shooting

In total, the DA’s Office estimates a single non-fatal shooting trial costs $12,300.90 in taxpayer money. Again, there were 764 non-fatal shootings in Milwaukee in 2020. They were not all tried in court, but if they were, it would cost taxpayers an additional $9,397,887.60 - bringing the grand total to $21,329,917.40, so far.

King was sentenced to 12-and-a-half years in prison. Not taking into account his paralysis, which could elevate costs of care, the average prisoner costs taxpayers $98.84 per day to house in the Department of Corrections.

When King is released in 2026, Wisconsin taxpayers will be on the hook for $450,960.50.

If all of 2020’s non-fatal shootings were committed by individual suspects and if they were tried and sentenced to the exact same sentence as King, something likely to fluctuate tremendously, housing those convicted shooters would cost $344,533,822. Add in the previous costs, and you’re looking at more than a third of a billion dollars: $365,863,739.

“This should be a top priority for civic leaders, for the state and the federal government and communities to say, we should do everything possible to reduce and eliminate gun violence in the city,” Reggie Moore, Director of Violence Prevention, Policy and Engagement with the Medical College of Wisconsin, said. “The conclusion we have come to, when communities, families, young people, neighborhoods have what they need to not only survive, but thrive, they are safer.”

While Motley’s costs have an estimate and the cost to the taxpayer has a very rough estimate, there are elements of a shooting that can’t be measured financially, according to Moore. Things like property values, business support and potential new jobs could all take a hit as a result of a shooting in a neighborhood. It can impact the potential future earnings of residents in those neighborhoods as well. These are the ripple effects of a single shooting, but can cause waves of destruction for generations.

“It’s important for people to appreciate, it’s not just the impact of a shooting, but even shots fired,” Moore said. “Research has shown, even a child hearing gunshots has an impact on their school performance, whether it’s a test the next day or looking at the impact of academic performance after that. Hearing gunshots is a form of trauma.”

It’s trauma that can further impact an already devastating racial wealth gap in the country’s most segregated city. Consider the demographics of non-fatal shooting victims in Milwaukee. Since 2018, no less than 82 percent of all non-fatal shooting victims in any given year were Black. With African Americans in Milwaukee making a median household income of $29,655, the direct costs of dealing with a shooting hit harder. That median income is 4 and a half times less than Claude’s medical bills.

“That person is in a situation where they’re not able to take care of themselves so other family members might come in to help,” Motley said. “That takes the stability out of their lives and it radiates throughout.”

“When you look at communities with lower levels of violence or crime, regardless of racial makeup, they tend to be economically secure, tend to have strong and quality public services from the government in terms of trash pickups and other services from the city, access to quality schools. They’re all protected factors that can reduce the likelihood of violence occurring. We can’t just look downstream at interpersonal violence or the result of all the neglect, oppression and systemic and structural violence in the city and country that has resulted to disparities that exist. If we have disparities in education and employment, we will also have disparities as it relates to violence," said Motley.

With the help of 414Life, the City of Milwaukee is trying to stop these shootings from happening before they start. While the pandemic has elevated the number of non-fatal shootings dramatically, the group feels this violent stretch would have been worse without their efforts.

“We have successfully done nearly 170 violence interruptions,” Derrick Rogers, Director of 414Life, said. “Half of those could have been situations that would have been deadly. So, the numbers are bad. They could have been much worse, if not for certain work, not just with 414Life, but things we’ve done.”

Rogers has met with and spoken to victims of gun violence during his time with 414Life. He says he frequently hears about hopelessness as it relates to gun violence.

“People can’t imagine the possibilities,” Rogers said. “They can’t see anything different. They can’t plan for the future. It makes it difficult to get together and envision what they want to do for their families to improve circumstances because they’re dealing with the day-to-day of, will we be here tomorrow? That’s one of the most damaging impacts of gun violence.”

Tomorrow is something Claude constantly looks forward to and something other victims of gun violence can look at for guidance. Yes, Claude still owes $40,000 in medical debt, has three children either in college or on their way, and is still working towards passing the bar exam. But he’s able to wake up every day knowing it’s all worth it, because he was able to survive. Now, he’s working on the next part - to thrive.

“You can feel some pain and anger from that, but you have to push through and say, $40,000 for my life?” Motley said. “I’ll take that.”

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