Tosa, Greenfield Police Spend Chaotic Night Corraling Armed Robbery Suspects
But high-risk effort bears little fruit when the "crime" turns out to be questionable, drug-related interaction.
Large forces of Greenfield and Wauwatosa police officers, and even some from Milwaukee, spent hours in a high-risk situation last Wednesday night apprehending two armed robbery suspects – and in the end, they were able to do no more than issue a few municipal citations.
Wild and woolly events kept some officers busy from before 10 p.m. Wednesday until almost dawn Thursday. They involved a tense traffic stop with a high expectation of gunplay, a foot chase and mass search with a police tracking dog, and a suspect who plunged into an icy river in his near escape.
Improbably, all that didn't amount to much.
The game is afoot
For police, it began at 9:49 p.m. when a Greenfield patrol officer noticed a car driving on two flat tires on West Coldspring Road. He followed and stopped the driver in the 4200 block of South 26th Street to see what the problem might be.
The 19-year-old man at the wheel — formerly of Greenfield, now with a nearby Milwaukee address — told the officer he had just been held up at gunpoint, pistol-whipped and robbed. He a large red welt on the side of his face, the officer noted.
The man told the officer he had been so frantic after the event, having feared for his life, he accidentally drove into a curb and blew his tires but kept driving on the rims. He gave the officer the nickname of his principal assailant and the full name of another man who had left the scene of the robbery with him.
The officer immediately called for assistance, alerting Greenfield dispatch that armed robbers were on the loose.
(What the victim, such as he would prove to be, did not tell the officer immediately was that the incident had been a drug robbery, that he was well-acquainted with the suspects, and that he had willingly gone along with a man he knew to be dangerous.)
Suspects' path followed into Wauwatosa
Greenfield police traced one subject to a residence in the 1300 block of Hawley Road, just east of Wauwatosa, getting Milwaukee police involved as well. They learned from that suspect's mother that the two men in question had taken her car and were going to rent a movie at a grocery store in the neighborhood of West State and North 68th streets.
Greenfield and Milwaukee officers poured over the border and alerted Tosa police, giving the exact make, model, color and license number of the car.
At 11:45 p.m., a Tosa officer parked in the lot east of Longfellow Middle School, 7600 W. North Ave., spotted the car going south on Wauwatosa Avenue.
He followed the suspects to the heart of Tosa Village and then east on West State Street while he waited for backup units to arrive for a “high-risk stop” — dispatch had informed him that a handgun had been displayed in the Greenfield robbery.
He advised that he would attempt to stop the car at West State and North 70th streets. A second officer waited in the parking lot of Chase Bank, 7430 W. State St., and pulled in behind as the suspects and then the first squad passed. A Greenfield officer approaching from the east saw them coming and prepared to cut the suspects off from that direction.
The Tosa officer hit his lights and the driver pulled over. The officer drew his weapon, but the passenger jumped out of the car and ran off into the dimly lit expanse of Hart Park.
Baby, it's cold outside
All other Wauwatosa squads were rerouted to search for the escaped suspect while the Greenfield officer and two Milwaukee police sergeants helped out with the driver, a 23-year-old Milwaukee man, who was ordered out of the car and arrested without incident.
For more than an hour in 30-degree weather, a swarm of police officers combed the area in the dark, calling in Greenfield police K9 officer Badger to try to track the fleeing suspect.
But in the end, it was cold that brought him to bay.
At 12:58 a.m., Tosa police got a 911 call from the Sentry Foods store at 6700 W. State St., just two blocks away from their command post. An employee said that a soaking wet man had entered the vestibule, caught his attention, and said that he had been held at gunpoint and needed the police.
The Sentry employee asked why he didn't just walk down the street to where more than a dozen police officers were gathered, their emergency lights flooding the area with blue and red flashes.
He was cold, he said, and the store was closer. He was not merely shivering — he was shaking violently.
The call was made, and Tosa police arrived and instantly put the young man flat on the ground. He was handed over to Greenfield officers, who just as quickly handed him over temporarily to the Wauwatosa Fire Department, whose paramedics rushed him to Froedtert Hospital for treatment for hypothermia.
Surrendering to the elements
It wasn't until almost 4 a.m. that Greenfield police could interview the man, once his body temperature had been brought back to normal.
The 22-year-old Greenfield man then told them that he had helped arrange a drug deal with the two others involved, and that after it had gone bad, with a gun drawn and a robbery, he had reluctantly accompanied the perpertrator, fearing for his own life.
He had run, he said, because he thought the driver still had a gun and that he would end up involved in a shootout.
He ran, he said, blindly across a field until he slipped on rocks and fell into a stream — the Menomonee River. He lay there in the frigid water, hiding, until he couldn't stand it anymore, then got up and saw the bright, inviting lights of the supermarket.
The victim of the alleged robbery admitted that he had been part of a drug deal, that he was a user, and that he knew the 23-year-old Milwaukee man was trouble.
He told police he was "not excited to see the man" because, the police report says, "he knows he has a bad reputation of robbing people at gunpoint and killing people."
He swore to his story, though, of letting him into his car, being robbed and pistol-whipped by him, and then of driving him to his home to turn over more money and drugs.
What's more, the 23-year-old Greenfield man, who fled and flopped into a freezing river, corroborated that story and said he had also been held at gunpoint by his old friend, the driver who had surrendered so peaceably.
No gun has been found.
In the course of the followup investigation, police found a wide variety of street and pharmaceutical drugs and sought charges against the two suspects of kidnapping, armed robbery and possession of narcotics.
However, when they approached the district attorney on Sunday, with the victim in tow, she told him and officers she wasn't inclined to pursue the case because he was an admitted drug user and dealer and his only witnesses were the accused.
In other words, she said, you have no credibility.
Instead of serious felony charges, the Greenfield police later Sunday issued the two men they and Tosa police had worked so hard to corral three municipal tickets apiece — for possession of marijuana, possession of narcotics and theft.
As for the "victim," Greenfield police were considering forwarding a request for charges of "false uttering," because during their investigation they learned that in order to buy drugs, he had stolen and forged checks from his own mother.