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By Mark Lisowski
RACINE, WI – Racine County District Attorney Patricia Hanson is facing accusations of selective justice and impropriety as activists rally to strip her of her position.
Michael Burmeister, a community organizer, has begun a petition to remove Hanson from her office. The call for Hanson’s removal comes in the wake of her decision that Mount Pleasant Police Officer Eric Giese was justified in his use of deadly force against Tyrese West, 18, during his attempt to arrest West on the morning of June 15. Officer Giese will not face trial for his charges as a result of Hanson’s decision.
In a separate incident, Burmeister also wanted Hanson to press charges against the driver who rear-ended his aunt and uncle on May 25, 2018. The crash killed both Phillip and Nadine Burmeister, of Racine, who were riding their three-wheeler.
Dan Burmeister, Michael’s father, said the driver had only been issued a traffic citation for inattentive driving.
“When I first contacted the DA’s office, I was informed that the Sheriff’s Department had not referred the case to them, and they recommended I contact the Sheriff’s Department directly,” Dan said. “When I contacted the Sheriff’s Department, I learned that they had been directed by the DA’s office not to refer the case. The DA’s office was dishonest with me implying it had been the Sheriff Department’s decision not to refer the case when it in fact (was) the DA’s office that had made the decision. I then emailed the DA’s office again and got no response.”
“This is the last straw,” said Michael, who is leading the charge to remove Hanson from office. “Tyrese was not the first to be denied justice but he is the last,” he added.
Hanson took office in 2016.
“The beauty of a democracy like the United States is the ability of people to participate in their government. If the recall effort is successful, I will be more than prepared to vigorously defend my position to continue to serve the residents of Racine County,” said Hanson.
Hanson: Giese shot West in self-defense
On the evening of June 14, West fled on foot from the scene where he and several of his friends were stopped by Kenosha police, who suspected their vehicle was stolen. Later that night, officer Giese attempted to stop West, who was riding a bicycle without a headlight. Unaware of who was riding the bicycle, he noted that he could see that it was being operated without lights, as required by law after dark.
Giese knew that school had already ended for the summer. He also knew that there had been “vehicle break-ins and quality of life issues,” according to Hanson’s report.
According to Hanson’s decision, Giese threatened to use his dog while he was still pursuing West in his squad car. The decision also notes that “Sergeant Giese advised that the threat of the dog was a ruse to try and get Mr. West to stop.”
When Sergeant Giese believed he had gotten within 20 feet of Mr. West, he withdrew his Taser from his duty belt with his right hand and activated it for use. His radio was still in his left hand. Sergeant Giese aimed the Taser at West and deployed it, but the prongs did not make contact with him.
Hearing the “pop” of the Taser, Giese said West gave him a “target glance back at him.” He reached both hands to his left waistband. Giese believed West was reaching for a gun.
According to Hanson’s report:
“Sergeant Giese throws his Taser and now draws his duty weapon. Sergeant Giese states that based on his belief that Mr. West was armed with a gun and after seeing what he believed was a target glance, he was afraid that Mr. West knew his position and may have been preparing to fire on him.”
Giese’s pursuit of West ended in his use of deadly force against West, believing West would have used the gun he was armed with against officer Giese.
“It is important to note, that it is my opinion, that the gun was of some importance to Mr. West. It appears as though he was intent on possessing it,” Hanson wrote in her decision. She noted that West had ample opportunity to discard the SCCY CPX-2, 9 mm semi-automatic handgun he was carrying but chose not to discard it.
Burmeister calls for a recall after Hanson’s decision
“There are so many discrepancies,” Burmeister said. Both Burmeister and the DA’s decision note that DNA evidence found on the gun was an inconclusive link to West. But Burmeister finds the inconclusive DNA evidence suspicious.
A friend of West, who was arrested by Kenosha police at the traffic stop on the evening of June 14, stated it was unlikely anyone in the car that night would have had a gun because several of them were on probation. He also stated his belief that if West had a gun on him, he would not have used it against police and instead would have tried to flee police and throw the gun away.
Burmeister also alleges officer Giese used his body camera before and after the incident but not during. Hanson’s decision notes that the officer failed to activate his camera and that no part of the incident was recorded, although the use of a body camera is not required by Mount Pleasant police. The decision claims the officer’s failure to record the incident was not intentional or done for “any other nefarious purposes.”
Giese attempted to contact dispatch as he was running to catch West. But he had just been issued a new radio that did not have a lapel microphone, something he was accustomed to wearing.
“But in this situation, he was forced to remove the radio from his duty belt and keep it in his hand to activate the talk button to communicate with dispatch,” according to Hanson’s report.
Burmeister, a Racine resident, knew West through a co-worker. West was beloved by his friends and family.
“He was cut down in his prime,” he said. “Tyrese’s death was not in vain.”
Burmeister believes there was enough evidence for the case to go to trial but that Hanson was being selective in choosing not to have officer Giese stand trial.
He and several circulators have gathered about 600 signatures to remove Hanson. He noted that reception of the petition has been “overwhelmingly positive.” Activists will convene on Wednesday to count signatures and plan for further canvassing efforts.
Their goal is to have at least 25,000 signatures to remove Hanson by 5 p.m. November 19.