UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF WISCONSIN
THE ESTATE OF KONERAK SINTHASOMPHONE, )
by its special administrator, )
Anoukone Sinthasomphone; )
SOUNTHONE SINTHASOMPHONE; and ) Civil Action
SOMDY SINTHASOMPHONE, ) No. 91-C-1121
THE CITY OF MILWAUKEE, )
a municipal corporation; ) ORDER
JOSEPH GABRISH; and )
JOHN A. BALCERZAK, )
What follows is another chapter in the horrifying story of Jeffrey
Dahmer. The result of this chapter is that a jury trial will be held to
sort out whether, on May 27, 1991, Konerak Sinthasomphone's right to the
equal protection of the law was violated based on race, sex, and sexual
orientation by two Milwaukee police officers and by the customs and
practices of the Milwaukee Police Department.
The facts which gave rise to this case have previously been recited in
decisions on motions to dismiss the complaint and for dismissal on the
basis of qualified immunity. See Sinthasom-phone v. City of Milwaukee,
785 F. Supp. 1343 (E.D. Wis. 1992); Sinthasomphone v. City of Milwaukee,
838 F. Supp. 1320 (E.D. Wis. 1993). What remains are claims based on a
violation of Sinthasomphone's right to the equal protection of the law.
Motions for Summary Judgment
Briefly, the background facts, particularly as they relate to the equal
protection claim, are that on the evening of May 27, 1991, young
Sinthasomphone, a Laotian boy of 14, was seen wandering dazed and naked
on the corner of 25th and State in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Police officers,
including the defendants Joseph Gabrish and John Balcerzak, arrived on
the scene. Shortly thereafter, the now-well-known serial killer Jeffrey
Dahmer, a white man, arrived and explained to the police (who were also
white) that Sinthasomphone was his friend and that he was drunk. Despite
the vigorous protestations of several African-Americans on the scene, the
officers and Dahmer led Sinthasomphone back to Dahmer's apartment, where
the body of one of Dahmer's victims lay unnoticed in an adjoining room.
Concluding that Dahmer and Sinthasomphone were adult homosexual lovers,
the officers ultimately left Sinthasomphone with Dahmer. Thirty minutes
later, he became Dahmer's thirteenth victim.
Both the City of Milwaukee and Officers Gabrish and Balcerzak, have filed
motions for summary judgment. Summary judgment is appropriate only if
there is "no genuine issue as to any material fact" and if the "moving
party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Rule 56, Federal Rules
of Civil Procedure; Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242 (1986).
In evaluating the motions, I must "view the record and all inferences
drawn from it in the light most favorable to the party opposing the
motion." Lohorn v. Michal, 913 F.2d 327 (7th Cir. 1990). I may not weigh
the evidence. Anderson.
In this case, many facts are not in dispute. The dispute is over the
inferences to be drawn from the facts and over what facts are material.
It is a dispute over what lens should be used to view the facts.
The City of Milwaukee and the officers want to view the Milwaukee Police
Department and its policymakers as they existed in 1991 and later. The
plaintiffs are willing to look at that view, but they have a wider lens:
the customs and policies of the department as they have evolved over the
years, reaching back particularly to the reign of former Police Chief
When the plaintiffs look back, they see a department rife with
discriminatory customs and policies. Even the City does not deny that
there were problems. The City states in its brief that:
Chief Arreola has concluded that much needed to be done, and much still
remains to be done, to mend community relations since the tenure of
former Chief Harold Breier.
The City contends, though, that current Chief Philip Arreola, Mayor John
Norquist, and former Fire and Police Commission Chairman M. Nicol Padway
are opposed to discrimination and have taken steps to correct problems
within the department. The City argues that in 1991 it was clearly
against police policy to maintain discriminatory practices. The
plaintiffs contend that whatever steps have been taken have not been
sufficient to uproot deeply entrenched customs within the department, and
that in 1991 discriminatory customs were still acquiesced in by the
That is an issue which can only be resolved by drawing inferences from
the facts. Evaluating motivation and intent is not something to be done
on summary judgment. Hutchinson v. Proxmire, 443 U.S. 111 (1979). This
is an issue for a jury. Furthermore, in evaluating the evidence, the
factfinder must give close scrutiny to all circumstantial evidence.
Village of Arlington Heights v. Metropolitan Housing Dev. Corp., 429
U.S. 252 (1977).
I will set out a sampling of facts which illustrate why a jury must
decide whether a custom or policy, acquiesced in by the policymakers,
caused the violation of Konerak Sinthasomphone's rights. These facts will
also illustrated why a wider lens than the defendants use is the one
through which this case must be viewed.
Harold Breier was police chief in the city of Milwaukee from 1964 until
1984. During his tenure, he was the sole policy-maker for the department.
In 1984, legislative changes were made, and the Board of Fire and Police
Commissioners became the policy-maker for the department. See 62.50(1m),
Wisconsin Statutes. The commission can delegate authority to the police
chief; overall executive control is vested in the mayor.
One of the defendants, Joseph Gabrish, entered the Police Academy at the
very end of Harold Breier's tenure as chief. Officer Gabrish stated in
his deposition for this case that he held Chief Breier "in deep respect."
Robert Ziarnik was chief of police from September 6, 1984, through May 6,
1989. Defendant John Balcerzak entered the Police Academy in 1985, during
the tenure of Chief Ziarnik.
During 1991, M. Nicol Padway was chairman of the Fire and Police
Commission. John Norquist was then and is now the mayor of the city of
Milwaukee. Philip Arreola was appointed chief of police, effective
November 6, 1989, and remains in that position today. Chief Arreola was
hired at least in part because he was an advocate of and knowledgeable
about "community-oriented policing." That this was a change from the past
can perhaps be illustrated by former Chief Breier's evaluation of
community oriented policing: The police officer "doesn't have time for
that crap." This evaluation appears in a report on policy practices in
Milwaukee. The report also noted that on the occasion of his 8Oth
birthday, the former chief was quoted in The Milwaukee Journal as saying:
When I was chief, we were relating to the good people, and we were
relating to the other people too--we were throwing those people in the
can. . . . I always said, "The good people of Milwaukee, they bought what
the Department was selling."
Throughout the years there have been many warnings about problems within
the Milwaukee Police Department. I will mention a few. In Bell v. City of
Milwaukee, 746 F.2d 1205 (7th Cir. 1984), the United States Court of
Appeals for the Seventh Circuit upheld a jury verdict finding that a 20-
year conspiracy to cover up a shooting by white Milwaukee police officers
was motivated by invidious discrimination against blacks. In 1972, the
Wisconsin Advisory Commission to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
found that "[t]he charge of racism among policemen is not a new one, nor
one foreign to Milwaukee."
In 1979, the Office of Revenue Sharing conducted an investigation of the
Milwaukee Police Department and determined that it had engaged in
procedures and policies that adversely affected employment opportunities
for black police officers. See League of Martin v. City of Milwaukee, 588
F.Supp. 1004 (E.D. Wis. 1984). In 1981, consultants Dresner, Morris,
Tortorello + Sykes Research found a substantial degree of racial
polarization within the police department.
Ten years later, in 1991, a Fire and Police Commission study reported
overt racism and sexism at the Policy Academy. Also in 1991, The mayor's
Citizen's Commission on Police-Community Relations reported that several
residents complained of "racist and homophobic attitudes and a general
lack of respect" from police officers. In December of that year, Detroit
Police Commissioner James Jackson and Jane White, director of the East
Lansing Training Academy, reported a "rather serious polarization around
race and gender issues."
In 1993, reporting on its study of the Milwaukee Police Department, the
Police Foundation stated, "[T]here is institutionalized racism and sexism
that needs to be openly discussed and dealt with." Mayor Norquist and
Chairman Padway have both stated that they agree with the statement.
In November 1994, the Wisconsin Advisory Committee to the U.S.
Commission on Civil Rights found that the Milwaukee Police Department has
for the past two decades "manifested a police culture unsympathetic, and
even antagonistic, in its dealings with minority communities of the
City." The Committee recommended that the chief of police and the Fire
and Police Commission make a series of joint public statement decrying
police incivility to the public, particularly the black community. The
committee noted that once a "police culture is established, it is
difficult to change." To change it, the committee recommended a clearly
stated unambiguous policy against discriminatory practices.
The issue in this case can be viewed as whether sufficient efforts have
been made to change allegedly prevailing discriminatory customs of the
Milwaukee Police Department or whether the alleged discriminatory
culture, policies, and customs were allowed to exist and whether, through
intention or "deliberate indifference" [City of Canton v. Harris, 489
U.S. 378 (1989)], they remained in effect in May 1991, when the officers
left young Sinthasomphone in the care of Jeffrey Dahmer.
As the plaintiffs argue, a change in the policymaker does not necessarily
effectuate a change in deeply entrenched de facto policies. These are
issues which a jury will have to resolve by looking at the past as well
as at the time of this incident to see what the policies were in 1991.
As to the individual officers, the issue is whether they acted in a
discriminatory fashion. They say in their affidavits that they did not.
However, because motive and intent are subject to proof only
circumstantially, summary judgment is not often a useful tool to resolve
these issues. See Hutchinson v. Proxmire, 443 U.S. 111 (1979). There is
in this record, evidence from which a jury may be allowed to draw
inferences to support the plaintiffs' case. The plaintiffs have a right
to present their claims to a jury. I cannot, as a matter of law, deprive
them of that right.
Motions in Limine
Defendants Gabrish and Balcerzak have filed a motion to exclude the
testimony of one of plaintiffs' designated expert witnesses, Stanley
Smith. Mr. Smith should be called to provide expert testimony regarding
the value of Konerak Sinthasomphone's loss of the enjoyment of life, or
hedonic damages. There are several objections to the testimony: that Mr.
Smith's theory and methodology cannot be tested or substantiated, have
not received favorable peer review, have an unknown rate of error, and
are not generally accepted by other economists. Furthermore, defendants
argue, Mr. Smith's testimony will not assist the jury.
According to the plaintiffs, Mr. Smith has analyzed over 67 studies from
which he concludes that economists seeking to place a monetary value on
human life have arrived at valuations between $1.5 million and $3
million, when their figures are converted to the value of the 1988
dollar. Mr. Smith himself places the value of life at $2.3 million as
measured in 1988 dollars.
He then makes appropriate adjustments to (1) convert 1988 U.S. dollars
to their present value, and (2) adjust the life expectancy of Konerak
Sinthasomphone (59.1 years) as opposed to the 45-year average inherent in
an economic model. He further finds nothing in the background or
condition of this 14-year-old to require a downward adjustment.
His conclusion is that the value of the life of Konerak Sinthasomphone in
current United States dollars is in the approximate amount of $3.4
The testimony of Mr. Smith has specifically been the subject of two
reported cases in the court of appeals for this circuit. Sherrod v.
Berry is a case which was ultimately considered en banc by the court. In
the district court the plaintiffs prevailed. The district judge had
admitted the testimony of Mr. Smith [629 F.Supp. 159 (N.D. Ill, 1985)].
At first the court of appeals affirmed the judgment [827 F.2d 195 (7th
Cir. 1987)]. The court was entirely uncritical of the admission of Mr.
Smith's testimony; in fact, stated that the testimony was "invaluable" to
That decision was vacated [835 F.2d 1222 (7th Cir. 1988)] and the en banc
decision followed [856 F.2d 802 (7th Cir. 1988)]. In the latter, the
judgment of the district court was reversed. There was no discussion,
however, of the testimony of Mr. Smith, and the court, in fact, stated
that the district court should consider matter not discussed in the en
banc opinion "in light of this court's prior discussion of those matters
. . . ." At 870, n.5.
Then in a later case, Mercado v. Ahmed, 974 F.2d 863 (7th Cir. 1992),
the court upheld the decision of the district judge to exclude the
testimony of Mr. Smith. The court stated that it was merely deciding that
exclusion of the testimony was not an abuse of discretion. However, it is
fair to say that this time, when the court looked at the issue of Mr.
Smith's testimony, it was highly critical: "A witness who knows no more
than the average person is not an expert." At 870. It damned with faint
All this is not to imply that we can state conclusively that Smith's
approach is devoid of any merit. At 871.
Of course, both approaches the Seventh Circuit has taken regarding the
testimony must be reevaluated in light of Daubert v. Merrell Dow
Pharmaceuticals Inc., 113 S.Ct. 2787 (1993). The Supreme Court has
expressed its faith in the ability of district judges to separate the
wheat from the chaff, guided by the question "whether the expert is
proposing to testify to (1) scientific knowledge that (2) will assist the
trier of fact to understand or determine a fact in issue." At 2796.
The problem with Mr. Smith's testimony is that he is attempting to
quantify something which cannot truly be determined: what is the value of
a human life? He rests his determination on a number of studies which are
in themselves grounded in the science of economics--which, in the first
place, is not quite like physics. Does this mean that his testimony will
not assist the jury or will mislead them?
I am not, at this point, convinced of that. His testimony may conceivably
be useful for the jury to have some starting point in their attempt to
place a value on life. On the other hand, his testimony may be the kind
of "junk" that should not be heard in a court of law. At trial, after a
short offer of proof as to the nature of the testimony, I will make a
final decision on whether this evidence can be presented. The plaintiffs
may not make any reference to it in opening statement.
Defendants Gabrish and Balcerzak have also filed a motion to preclude
expert testimony that they intentionally discriminated against
Sinthasomphone. The motion will also be denied at this time. It involves
issues which can only be considered once I hear the questions which the
experts are asked.
IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that the defense motions for summary judgment are
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the motions to exclude testimony are DENIED at
this time. They may be renewed at the trial.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the attached pretrial order be complied with
and a report filed by March 15, 1995. The trial will start, as scheduled,
at 10 a.m. on March 21, 1995.
Dated at Milwaukee, Wisconsin, this 2nd day of March, 1995.
BY THE COURT:
TERENCE T. EVANS
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