A lawsuit over unlawful entry into a home in October 2016 resulting in a $10,000 settlement in September 2018 was the Village of Brooklyn board of trustees’ rationale for disbanding its police department earlier this month.
In a news release published Tuesday, Feb. 9, the board claimed that the decision to contract with Dane County Sheriff’s Office for service came following the settlement of a lawsuit. That followed a Monday, Feb. 1, meeting to dissolve the village’s police department and contract with the Dane County Sheriff’s Office.
“Because the Village faced and resolved a recent lawsuit over alleged Brooklyn Police Department wrongdoing as well as unresolved Brooklyn PD personnel issues and complaints, the Village’s future potential liability needs to be minimized to safeguard the taxpayers against significant future costs,” the news release read. “By contracting with (Dane County), the Village of Brooklyn’s potential liability stemming from policing becomes zero.”
That lawsuit and subsequent settlement was not brought up during the meeting as the rationale for abolishing the department prior to board members voting, as board members engaged in virtually no discussion and did not address public comment. No information as to what the lawsuit pertained to or details of the settlement were initially shared with the public.
According to documents obtained by the Observer through a request under the Freedom of Information Act last week, the lawsuit and subsequent settlement was a result of a unlawful entry complaint against former police chief James Barger.
The lawsuit against Barger, the village and the village’s insurance company was brought by Brooklyn resident Michael Mason, who alleged Barger violated his Fourth Amendment rights protecting against unreasonable search and seizure when he entered Mason’s residence without a warrant in response to an incident on Oct. 17, 2016.
The village settled with Mason for $10,000 after his attorney said he might be entitled to nearly $602,000 if Mason were to file suit.
In a letter dated Nov. 15, 2017, from Madison-based Jeff Scott Olson Law Firm to village clerk Linda Kuhlman, the firm alleges that Michael Mason got into an argument with his father James Mason over the repayment of money owed to his father, as well as the return of a firearm he was borrowing from his father. The mention of a gun raised concern in Michael’s daughter, who called 911 for assistance, thinking a gun was being retrieved as a means of violence.
Green County deputies and a City of Evansville officer were the first to respond for the call for mutual aid. When Barger arrived, he took control of the scene, the letter states. Michael Mason had left the scene before law enforcement arrived, according to the letter.
The officers were informed by Michael’s parents that he’d left either for work, or to head to a cabin in northern Wisconsin where they believed the firearm in question was located.
The Green County deputies made contact with Michael by mobile phone, and passed the phone to Barger. According to the Nov. 2017 letter, Michael told Barger he was at his place of employment O’Mara Moving Systems as a semi-truck driver in Madison, getting ready to leave with a load.
Following that phone conversation, several law enforcement officers entered Michael’s home, without a warrant or the consent of other residents, including Michael’s daughter, who was still in an adjacent home belonging to her grandparents.
Inside the home, officers discovered a marijuana grow operation, belonging to a tenant of Michael’s, Marty Packard. Observations made by the officers during the search and items seized led to felony drug charges against Michael and Packard.
During his July 2017 appearance in the Green County Circuit Court, the court ruled that the search of Michael’s home had violated the Fourth Amendment, and that the two warrantless searches of Michael’s home had been unlawful. A district attorney then moved to dismiss five counts of drug charges against Michael, leaving only a charge of disorderly conduct, which was ruled a misdemeanor, to which Michael pleaded no contest.
The November 2017 letter alleged that because of missing work for court appearances, Michael lost his job in May 2017 and that his replacement job earned him $964 less per week. Michael’s attorney alleged that if he decided to file suit against the village, he could be entitled to recover damages of lost earning capacity annually through retirement age, at a loss of approximately $50,000 per year, or around $600,000 in losses.