Milwaukee Police Chief Alfonso Morales, clad in a "thin blue line" face mask, watches over Zoom Thursday night as the city's Fire and Police Commission votes to demote him to captain. (Screenshot/City of Milwaukee)
Milwaukee Police Chief Alfonso Morales, clad in a "thin blue line" face mask, watches over Zoom Thursday night as the city's Fire and Police Commission votes to demote him to captain. (Screenshot/City of Milwaukee)

From tear gas and rubber bullet use to not firing a cop charged with murder, activists have had a laundry list of concerns about the chief.

Milwaukee’s Fire and Police Commission unanimously voted Thursday night to demote Milwaukee Police Chief Alfonso Morales to captain, less than a year after he was appointed to a four-year term.

The decision came more than two months after protests against racism and police brutality broke out nationwide over the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.

Activists in Milwaukee demanded Morales’ firing over the department’s use of tear gas and rubber bullets on peaceful demonstrators during protests; his refusal to fire Michael Mattioli, an officer charged with homicide in May; and more recently his lack of disciplinary action against an off-duty officer who assaulted two photographers.

In early July, Morales compared police officers to Jesus Christ, saying they were being persecuted and “crucified” by “angry mobs” in protests against widespread police brutality.

“His conduct is unbecoming, filled with ethical lapses, and flawed decisions, making it inconsistent with someone that has the privilege of leading the Milwaukee Police Department,” Fire and Police Commissioner Raymond Robakowski said before the vote.

Mayor Tom Barrett and city aldermen also previously took MPD to task over the use of tear gas and rubber bullets, telling the department to not use rubber bullets whatsoever and to only use tear gas in extreme situations. Despite that, MPD last month put in an order for over 6,500 rubber bullets and tear gas canisters for policing the Democratic National Convention.

The FPC gave Morales a seven-page list of 11 directives at its July 20 meeting, ordering that the chief perform tasks such as providing an explanation for the tear-gas and rubber-bullet use, performing audits and handing over files for several controversial cases, and implementing a mandatory mask policy for the department.

Rather than fulfill all the directives, Morales spoke out in the media in the past few weeks and last weekend attended a police fundraiser where he was pictured without a mask and flouting social distancing guidelines. The Milwaukee’s Police Association president claimed the directives’ tight deadlines showed Morales was being “set up” by the FPC to be fired.

After Morales was demoted, Barrett told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel he was “angry with what happened tonight” but criticized Morales for spending “two weeks on a (public relations) campaign” rather than responding to the directives.

Robakowski said Morales’ recent efforts to defend himself and the department “intentionally misled the public in numerous press conferences, YouTube videos, and press releases.”

Black Leaders Organizing for Communities, a Black voter mobilization organization in Milwaukee, praised the move to demote Morales.

“We would argue that the FPC listened to the frustrations of the community and responded accordingly,” BLOC tweeted.

Rep. Jonathan Brostoff, D-Milwaukee, who has marched with protesters almost every day for more than two months, also tweeted Thursday in support of the FPC’s decision.

“Morales is no longer the chief of MPD,” Brostoff wrote. “Keep marching.”

Assistant Chief Michael Brunson, who in July vehemently defended officers’ use of tear gas and rubber bullets on peaceful protesters, will serve as acting chief. He released a statement Thursday thanking Morales for his 27 years of service in the department.

Morales was a captain before he was appointed to the position of chief in 2018.