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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Friday, April 18, 2014

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Why do cops take the Fifth?
Why do cops take the Fifth?

Why do cops take the Fifth?

Why did seven Milwaukee police officers refuse to testify at the Milwaukee County inquest into the death of Derek Williams?

Inquiring minds want to know, particularly since many Milwaukee cops take a different tack when it comes to their own investigations into possible crimes.

Local defense attorney Craig Mastantuono said it struck him as ironic that Milwaukee cops relied on their Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination during the inquest into the death of Williams, who died while in police custody.

"I know most cops tell my clients If you don't have anything to hide, you should answer our questions,'" said Mastantuono, who doesn't represent anybody involved in the Williams case.

"But they don't do that, do they?"

Mastantuono said although some residents might be cynical, he fully understood why police officers would take the Fifth on the advice of their own legal representation.

"They are the subject of a criminal investigation; they have reasons to evoke the Fifth Amendment that have nothing to do with being guilty."

The answers to questions from special prosecutor John Franke could leave them open to future prosecution, Also, they have no idea what questions will be asked.

Just like most suspects, the Milwaukee cops involved in the inquest want to preserve all of their rights for a fair trial. Latest reports say Franke plans to offer immunity to officers who took the Fifth so they can freely give their account of what happened when Williams died, which was probably their intention all along.

Mastantuono rightly points out that when police officers take the Fifth, some members of the community see that as "unseemly" given that many cops suggest most suspects should always cooperate with authorities unless they are guilty of a crime.

For many it's just another example why they feel justice isn't always so equal. 

Note: Congrats to former Journal Sentinel colleague Gina Barton for her Polk Award for coverage of the Derek Williams case. 

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