The Milwaukee City Council approved a $750,000 settlement Tuesday with NBA player Sterling Brown over a 2018 arrest in which Brown was Tased and wrestled to the ground by multiple officers after using a handicapped parking space in a Walgreens parking lot.
Brown, who played for the Milwaukee Bucks at the time, parked his Mercedes sedan across two spots at the drugstore on Jan. 26, 2018. One officer claimed that Brown obstructed him and got in his “grill,” but video of the encounter failed to support allegations that the athlete approached the officer.
As part of the agreement, the city will adopt a number of police reforms, including a new disciplinary matrix and “implement MPD’s embrace of a policy of anti-racism.” The officer who initially approached Brown, who was not named in settlement documents, will also be reassigned from patrol duty.
The council voted 14-0 to the agreement Tuesday, according to the city’s website.
Brown said that while he’s ecstatic that the deal has been approved, he wants to look forward to how to ensure accountability in social justice.
“We have a lot of work to do, and I can’t get complacent and just relax because there was one settlement that was able to be approved,” Brown said. “It’s gonna have a great impact but … how can we continue to make sure that these things are enforced. How can we continue to make, you know, advances and strides in the areas that we do still need help?”
The settlement is not the “end-all-be-all,” but it is a first step, said Brown, who fought to make sure anti-racist policing training was part of the agreement.
“We don’t want to be in a situation where we are in a settlement and we need video footage … we want to be able to prevent it,” Brown said. “We want to be able to meet things head-on before it even happens and allow us … allow the citizens in the community to be at peace when they walk into their neighborhoods.”
The initial officer called for backup, and when others arrived, they questioned Brown and ordered him to take his hands out of his pockets before wrestling him to the ground and piling on, according to video released in 2018. One officer was heard yelling “Taser! Taser! Taser!” as Brown groaned.
“You’re stepping on my ankle, for what?” Brown said.
“So you don’t kick us,” the officer responded.
“I ain’t got no reason to kick y’all, man,” Brown said.
Brown sustained bruises to his face and back.
Officers could be heard discussing Brown’s arrest in body camera footage released by police, with one claiming that if Brown made a complaint it would be a “f—ing media firestorm” because of his celebrity.
“And then any little f—ing thing that goes wrong is going to be, ‘Ohhh, the Milwaukee Police Department is all racist, blah, blah, blah,'” the officer continued.
The settlement also includes a formal apology to Brown from the city and the Milwaukee Police Department, according to a statement approved in the city’s settlement motion. Both the city and department recognize “that the incident escalated in an unnecessary manner and despite Mr. Brown’s calm behavior,” the statement said.
Brown published an essay in The Player’s Tribune last year discussing his decision to reject an initial $400,000 settlement offer from the city.
“I want more than just money,” he wrote. “I want cops to show respect and to be held accountable when they step out of line, especially in the neighborhoods they are supposed to serve and protect every day.”
Marc Thomsen, Brown’s attorney, said his client has always been focused on more than a dollar amount. The approved settlement is extensive in its language around use of force, body cameras and training, Thomsen said.
“For example, in Mr. Brown’s case, one of the sergeants involved actually had said that Mr. Brown had a gun on the backseat of his car. Now, he lied to internal affairs,” Thomsen said. “Part of these changes, say they’re gonna be disciplined for violating civil rights. You’re going to be disciplined for lying … you’ll have your body cams on at all points in time.”
The settlement comes after a year of increased awareness and scrutiny on the use of force by police against Black people across the country.
The Milwaukee Bucks sparked a protest that extended to several professional sports organizations after the shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man paralyzed after being shot multiple times by a Kenosha police officer in August.
The team refused to take the court in a playoff game that month, forcing the delay of other NBA contests. Athletes who play professional tennis, baseball and soccer also followed suit, refusing to play in protest of police brutality.
Brown, who was signed to the Rockets shortly after, said he doesn’t take his platform lightly.
“We were able to make a lot of noise and put people on notice,” he said. We have “a lot of power in the platform, and we need to start holding people accountable, and we need to start doing what we can do to make sure … people don’t just get let off easy. It’s just crazy how everything happens, and after a while it’s like … it never happened. You know everybody just goes back to their normal everyday lives.”
The settlement’s approval is not the end of the fight for social justice for Brown, who said he will continue to be doing work in Milwaukee and is working on uplifting others with his foundation, S.A.L.U.T.E., which focuses on education and resources for underserved communities.