Three fired Milwaukee police officers have been sentenced to more than 15 years each in federal prison for the beating of Frank Jude Jr.
The sentences were handed down Thursday by U.S. District Court Judge Charles Clevert after the three officers were convicted in July of conspiring to violate the civil rights of Jude and Lovell Harris and of assaulting Jude while acting as officers.
All three officers were acquitted on state charges in 2006. The jury in that case could not reach a decision on one charge. A federal civil rights investigation followed, and the officers were tried on the federal charges and convicted.
The charges stem from an incident that occurred on Oct. 24, 2004 at an off-duty party held at Spengler's home. Jude and Harris attended the party in the company of two women.
At some point, Spengler's badge went missing and Jude and Harris were accused of stealing it. A group of officers confronted and attacked Jude and Harris outside of the party.
Harris' face was cut during the attack but he managed to escape. Jude was stripped, punched, kicked in the head, and threatened with a knife and a gun. Objects were also jammed into his ears and his fingers were pulled back, according to witnesses.
Harris, who is African-American, and Jude, who is biracial, told investigators that the officers used racial epithets during the attack.
No badge was ever found, and no one was ever charged with the theft.
Judge Clevert said the beating damaged the public's perception of and trust in the police. "Civil rights of the people of this community must be respected, even if you carry a gun and badge, even if you are police, even if you believe someone did something wrong," he said.
Clevert handed down harsh sentences to the three ex-officers who actively participated in the beating.
Jon Bartlett, 36, received 17 years and three months. He is already serving time on two other felony convictions one for calling in a bomb threat to his former police station and another for attempting to buy a rifle, pistol, and 875 rounds while facing felony charges.
Daniel Masarik, 27, received 15 years and eight months.
Andrew Spengler, 28, the host of the party where the beating occurred, also received 15 years and eight months.
U.S. Attorney Steven M. Biskupic, who prosecuted the case, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the sentences were so tough because the case was so important. "These defendants ripped apart this community with their action and were deserving of long sentences."
The three officers could have been sentenced to 20 years in prison each. All have said they will appeal their convictions.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that each defendant expressed remorse to the judge and that Spengler wept.
Defense attorneys argued for lighter sentences, using the 30-month prison terms received by the officers involved in the Rodney King beating as a yardstick. They also argued that the beating was the result of group mentality, intoxication, and "a chaotic scene that escalated out of control."
Prosecutors countered that the beating was particularly vicious and not the result of impulse. "This was an intentional, methodical, purposeful, extensive beating over 15 minutes of sickening acts," Assistant U.S. Attorney Mel Johnson said.
Judge Clevert agreed with the prosecutors. "In my estimation, it would be a travesty if I were to adopt the rationale discussed for a below-guidelines sentence," he said.
The victim, Jude, was not in court. He is in jail on a probation violation. His attorney read a statement that said in part: "You violated my civil rights and you attempted to kill me. You took my life. You are a disgrace to the police uniform."
The incident not only inflamed Milwaukee's minority community, it also had an explosive effect on the Milwaukee Police Department. Chief Nannette Hegerty fired nine officers, suspended three, and demoted one all on the same day.
Seven officers, including Bartlett, Masarik, and Spengler have been convicted in the case. Two pleaded guilty and have been sentenced. Two others face sentencing next week.
In a prepared statement, Mayor Tom Barrett said, "These sentences bring Milwaukee closer to ending this sad chapter in our city's history and hopefully closer to healing and recovery."