Two Milwaukee police officers accused of failing to intervene when other officers conducted illegal strip and body-cavity searches reached a plea deal Monday, avoiding a trial scheduled to start that day.
Jeffrey Dollhopf and Brian Kozelek pleaded no contest to disorderly conduct as a party to a crime. A no-contest plea is not an admission of guilt but is treated as such at sentencing.
Prosecutors recommended both men be fined, and Dollhopf was ordered to do community service. They are expected to resign from the police department before their Dec. 5 sentencing. The defendants and their attorneys left court without commenting to reporters.
Four officers were charged in the case. Court documents described Michael Vagnini as the aggressor and accused him of probing some suspects' rectums with his fingers. Dollhopf, Kozelek and another officer, Jacob Knight, were described as observers.
More than a dozen black victims of the illegal searches have filed federal civil rights suits against the city and a number of officers, all white. The plaintiffs say the officers subjected them to unwarranted and humiliating rectal probes under the pretense of searching for nonexistent drugs, with some allegations dating back to 2010.
Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn has defended his department's handling of the allegations of police abuse. He pointed out that his department initiated the investigation and then turned the case over to prosecutors.
In one case, Vagnini is accused of stopping a driver in April 2012 and probed his anus for drugs. After finding nothing he brought the man back to the station, had him strip to his underwear and demanded he defecate into a box to prove he wasn't hiding drugs. Dollhopf and Kozelek watched but didn't try to stop Vagnini, nor did they report the offense, investigators said.
Three months later Vagnini stopped another driver and accused him of concealing drugs in his rectum. That driver was also brought to the station and stripped to his underwear, and Vagnini repeatedly inserted a bare finger into the man's anus, prosecutors said. When Vagnini found nothing, he ordered the man to expel the drugs himself into a garbage can.
Dollhopf again watched, this time with Knight, and neither officer intervened, the complaint said.
Dollhopf, 42, was initially charged with felony misconduct in public office and being party to the crime of illegal cavity search. The charges carried a maximum penalty of 17 years in prison and a $42,000 fine.
Kozelek, 34, was charged with illegal strip search and misconduct in office, which carry a maximum penalty of more than 13 years in prison and a fine of $31,000.
Vagnini accepted a plea deal in April that ended his law enforcement career but didn't require that he register as a sex offender. He was sentenced to 26 months in prison.
Knight was sentenced to 20 days in jail.