MILWAUKEE — The family of a 4-year-old girl left in a minivan overnight in a freezing city tow lot following a police search filed a notice of claim against the City of Milwaukee in Circuit Court Tuesday, and it may become a lawsuit.
On. Nov. 12, 2018, law enforcement responded to a report of a disabled minivan on the side of the road. Police arrested the girl's mother on suspicion of drunken driving, but officers missed the child, who appears to have been left unseen in the back of the van.
The 4-year-old was only found eight hours later amid freezing temperatures after the van she was in was towed to the City of Milwaukee's tow lot. That's when a nearby worker heard a girl crying from inside.
A Milwaukee County Court sentenced the girl's mother, Blair Springfield, to 10 months in the House of Corrections in April of 2019 for child neglect and drunken driving. Former Milwaukee Police Chief Alfonso Morales suspended the two police officers involved in the arrest.
Now, two civil rights lawyers, Mark Thomsen and William Sulton, are representing the mother and the girl as they file a notice of claim against the city, which is an initial move towards a lawsuit.
In their claim filed Tuesday, the plaintiffs claim the girl's 4th Amendment was violated, as she was allegedly unlawfully seized as the vehicle was towed to the city lot; her 14th Amendment was violated for the alleged deprivation of due process, as the girl was left overnight in freezing conditions; and negligence, for the failure to properly search the van the girl was in, the lawyers argue.
The lawyers call for the following relief: compensatory and punitive damages as well as attorneys' fees. They further demand a trial by jury.
The Office of the City Attorney did not immediately respond for comment regarding the claim Tuesday evening.
William Sulton discussed the case with TMJ4 News Tuesday evening, and said that the responding police officers "just didn't care."
"They certainly knew that my client was in the back of that car because her aunt had said so. And when they took her mother down to the police station she had said so," Sulton said.
Sulton says the child is doing better than she was three years ago, when the incident occurred, but that night remains the worst of her life.
"She has significant trauma from it. And you know, this is terrible. Incredibly awful and the city hasn't made it right," Sulton said.
How the officers missed the child in the van, the plaintiffs say
On Nov. 12, 2018, the 4-year-old was sleeping in the backseat of a minivan when her mother, the driver of the van, was arrested by Milwaukee police officers.
The plaintiffs argue that despite the child's aunt telling officers a child was in the van, they towed the vehicle with her still inside.
The child was taken to the city lot and left overnight, with temperatures around 25 degrees with a windchill of 14 degrees, according to the plaintiffs.
The plaintiffs name the following officers involved in the incident: James Collins, Fabian Garcia, Antonio Dorsey, Emily Markert and David Paszkiewicz. These are the officers who responded to a report of a parked minivan on West Forest Home Avenue in Milwaukee. All five of the officers are named as defendants in the claim.
The minivan's plates were suspended due to emissions, according to the plaintiffs.
Besides the young girl, her sister, mother and aunt were in the van. The plaintiffs argue the aunt told officers a young child was in the back of the van, and the officers did not inspect the van to find out if that was the case.
The officers also did not activate their body cameras, according to the plaintiffs. Collins and Garcia were later found to have violated department core values and suspended, Collins for 25 days and Garcia for 10. Collins was the same officer involved in the controversial arrest of Sterling Brown, the former Milwaukee Bucks player.
The minivan, with the child inside, was then towed to the city lot. The next day just before 8 a.m., a worker in an adjacent lot heard the girl "screaming 'I want my mommy,'" the plaintiffs say. City workers Morton and Santiago were called over and drove the girl to their office. They then called the police department.
The child was taken to Aurora St. Luke's emergency room and treated for injuries, "including the trauma from waking up alone, cold, and crying for 'mama' for hours," according to the plaintiffs.