Plea agreements are usually thought of as a compromise between the state (prosecutor) and the defendant (accused of a crime). They are a middle ground, where the defendant agrees to admit or partially admit to some or all of the charges against them in exchange for a lenient sentence or the dropping of some charges. Frequently, however, plea agreements undermine justice.
Many people, including a Milwaukee city alderman, are calling foul on a plea agreement made with still-current Milwaukee police officer Michael Vagnini. The issue of contention is that he was able to plead no contest to several different charges in exchange for avoiding convictions for sexual assault.
According to the Journal Sentinal, Vagnini would “regularly” pull drivers over for darkly tinted windows or seat belt violations (minor traffic violations at best) and search them without legal justification. During these searches—all conducted on male drivers—he would allegedly grope them, search their genitals, and perform a cavity search of their rectums.
If this isn’t troubling enough, perhaps the fact that the police department had been receiving complaints of this nature for “a couple of years” before they opened an investigation.
Vagnini was initially charged with 25 criminal counts, including seven sexual assault charges. Earlier this week, he pleaded no contest to four felonies and four misdemeanors, with none of them being sexual offenses. In other words, he will not have to register as a sex offender.
“When one considers how difficult it was for those violated to come forward and tell their stories, I am very concerned that future victims, seeing these results, will simply remain silent, thinking the personal cost of speaking up and seeking justice is just too high,” said Alderman Milele Coggs said in a statement.
Even worse, Vagnini won’t be officially terminated until June 21. Though he is not patrolling, he is still a police officer for the city.
It gets worse. Three other officers were also charged with being present when the searches happened. And they are all on paid suspension. They stood by and knew what Vagnini was doing, but didn’t report it. And the citizens of Milwaukee are paying their checks.
These officers are scheduled for a June 3 trial. They are charged with misconduct, among other things.
“Mr. Vagnini’s actions, along with those of the other officers involved, were not only reprehensible, but a disgrace to the badge, and have strained the already challenged relations the department has with the community,” said Common Council President Willie Hines, Jr.
Plea agreements are typically seen as a win-win situation. But often those who see it that way are only those closest to the case.