MILWAUKEE — Seven former employees of the Milwaukee Police Department, who were terminated from MPD for allegedly no apparent reason in 2019, are now suing former police chief Alfonso Morales, who was responsible for the decision at the time.
All seven former employees, who are also former Milwaukee police officers, allege in the lawsuit filed in Wisconsin's eastern federal court Friday that Morales "abruptly and capriciously" terminated their employment in a way that gave them "no opportunity to respond, no recourse and no constitutional Due Process."
Lawyers for the plaintiffs argue Morales' actions were "willful and wanton" and violated the standard operating procedure he held his subordinates to as chief of police.
The lawsuit further cites the conclusion made by an independent investigation in October of 2020 led by former U.S. Attorney Mel Johnson, which found that the seven people were removed for no clear reason. The report concluded the employees were steadfast and hardworking and that they had committed no offense that may have led to termination.
"Because these Plaintiffs were unfairly terminated without cause, and without due process, they bring this lawsuit to restore their constitutional rights and their good names," the lawsuit on Friday states.
The former employees are Jeffery Hadrian, Thomas Flock, Effrain Herrera, Richard Lesniewski, Hattie Nichols, Sandra Poniewaz and Jeffrey Watts. All seven joined MPD as civilian investigators after retiring from the police force.
Morales, who was police chief at the time of the firing, has been since demoted to captain amid tensions with the Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission. Morales is now seeking to get his former position back through legal action, according to his attorneys.
TMJ4 News reached out to the law firm that has represented Morales in the past Friday evening.
The lawsuit states the seven plaintiffs were employed by MPD as civilian investigators, tasked with performing background checks on potential City of Milwaukee employees.
On Feb. 22, 2019, all seven were abruptly removed from their positions at the "explicit direction of Alfonso Morales," the lawsuit states. None were given due process rights given to them by the MPD Standard Operating Procedure, they allege.
The lawsuit adds that plaintiffs Flock and Watts were told that if they did not immediately resign, they would be terminated immediately, so they resigned, "having no choice in the matter."
The other five refused to resign and were fired from the police department.
Thus, they argue their 14th Amendment right was violated, citing the protection against governmental actions that deprive a person of their constitutional property rights without fundamental fairness.
The plaintiffs demand punitive damages and a jury trial.
Last year's independent investigation also connected former assistant chief, Raymond Banks, who oversaw the department the seven plaintiffs worked in. The report found Banks provided Chief Morales with information that eventually led to their termination from the police force.
Read last year's independent investigation below: