Chief Flynn says victims coming forward after Riverwest attacks

CREATED Jul 6, 2011

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  • Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn

MILWAUKEE - Milwaukee Police are going back and working to find victims of an attack in Riverwest over the holiday weekend.

"We have encouraged people to come forward," said Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn on Newsradio 620 WTMJ's "Wisconsin's Morning News."

He says people are following through on the request in reporting being beaten by a reported mob of teenagers at Reservoir Park in Riverwest late Sunday night and the early morning hours of Monday.

A number of teenagers were also caught on camera looting the BP convenience store on the corner of North Humboldt and East North Avenues around that same time.

(Click the following links to see video and still photos of the BP looting suspects.  If you recognize anyone, please call Milwaukee Police at 414-935-7360.)

"It's my understanding that in the course of yesterday, more people did come forward to report themselves victims of the series of events that occurred that night.  Those investigations will continue, because the more information we get, the better chance we have of identifying suspects."

Witnesses claim that on the night of the incident, officers didn't seem interested in taking their reports, and police initially downplayed the event to the media.

Still, Chief Flynn told us he thinks it was handled properly.

"I understand the frustration of some people that were involved in what was certainly a chaotic situation and a frightening situation.  I can say that we took a number of robbery reports that night," said Flynn. 

"I also want to add that in the midst of trying to restore order, identify suspects, take initial victim statements from frequently injured and terrorized victims, the situation wasn't as smooth and calm as every victim might have liked.

"By the end of that evening, we had taken three separate robbery arrests.  We made one arrest for robbery, but it apparently was unrelated to the other two that are related to the mob situation.  We did follow proper protocol in terms of having the reports done and the investigation commenced that night."

Complaints had come forward that the police department downplayed the incidents that happened in Riverwest, saying there were no reports of mobs in the area.

"Unfortunately, motive gets attributed to circumstances, and public officials don't have all the information," said Flynn, who explained that officials had not yet seen full reports when he initially commented on the story nearly 18 hours after the incidents happened.

"We started getting asked by the media about this on early Sunday afternoon.  I went online as did my commanders.   We went through the list of crimes and we saw that various offenses had been reported.  We had not yet received any information about this mob-like activity after the fireworks."

Flynn further explained that their reaction came from what they had on hand.

"Our initial reaction was, "OK, we had a series of robberies.  We don't have any reports of mob-like activity.'  A number of people reached out to the press to indicate their outrage and ire that we were denying reality," explained Flynn.

But the Chief learned more about what happened as the day went on.

"By later in the afternoon, we had a chance to read the reports.  Inside the reports, there was documentation of crime and the circumstances of the crime, including the fact there were multiple offenders.  Our first press reaction was we didn't have this information, so as far as we knew, there hadn't been that activity, although we could confirm the robberies.  It wasn't an attempt to downplay, minimize or deny the concern about what we ultimately learned."

Flynn spoke at a Tuesday news conference about how the crimes involved victims of all ethnicities. 

He told Wisconsin's Morning News the reason why: the process that happens in the modern internet-fed news cycle.

"It was brought up because it was surfacing in a variety of circumstances," said Flynn. 

"We live in a multimedia world.  Frequently, press leads are derived from blogs and comments.  The commentary was out there, attached to much of the press coverage.  I wanted to get ahead of it."

Flynn detailed what reactions he was discovering. 

"People were calling up radio stations and blogging that aspect of it.  People were responding to JSOnline emphasizing that aspect of it.  I don't deny that it's terrorizing for any victim to hear racial terms used in the course of their victimization."

He explained that he wanted to make sure the community is together in trying to solve the crime.

"The point is, we can't allow this activity to divide the community, because ultimately, it is the community standing together that will identify these individuals and ultimately bring them to justice," Flynn told Newsradio 620 WTMJ. 

"That was important for me to communicate.  I wasn't trying to insult the mainstream press, but come on, we all read the blogs that are attached to our news stories.  We couldn't deny the fact that that attitude was out there and gaining currency."

One victim, Shaina Perry, was quoted in the Journal Sentinel saying that she heard some suspects saying, as she was being beaten, "Oh, white girl bleeds a lot."

When asked about whether her beating should be investigated as a hate crime, Flynn responded that the process of gathering specifics about the incident would give that answer.

"It's investigated as a crime.  Ultimately, what will happen, is when we get all of the facts and identify some offenders, what the proper charges are will be the result of the determination of the facts that we learn," said Flynn. 

"The standard approved for a hate crime - hate crime is a sentence enhancer, not a separate charge - if there are clear indications that race was a primary motive in the offense, that can be used to enhance the sentence for robbery when people are arrested."