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Police Protection or Harassment: Local business owner accuses police of targeting gas station

Business owner Diane Stowers said she's done everything Milwaukee police have asked her to, to keep her north side gas station in line with the city's nuisance law.

"Signage in windows, no loitering signs," she said.

She said officers kept coming in, claiming she wasn't licensed. They even sent in food inspectors.
"It was one thing after another, but everything was in order," Stowers said.

That's why she can't understand the police behavior on her property. It's so bad, she calls it harassment.

"Customers would be parked on the pump and getting gas and they would be in here and then all of a sudden there's squads around their cars with flashlights looking inside their cars," she said. "When they come out, they're going to get patted down."

Surveillance video from July 2015 shows what Stowers is concerned about.

In this case, bike cops surround the car, while the driver was inside the store. When the officers couldn't open the door, one extended his baton and two of them started swinging at the windows. Someone else in the car speeds off and officers immediately handcuff the driver when he comes out of the store.

No incident report was filed. Milwaukee police declined our interview request to watch and respond to the video.

In other cases, Stowers said customers would be searched and let go.

"To people going through that, it's embarrassing," she said. "So people didn't want to come here and go through that, so our business was actually dying."

Sales reports show the BP gas station near 8th and Atkinson lost more than $600,000 last year.

So, Stowers took her allegations of unnecessary force, abuse of authority and misconduct to Milwaukee police. In January, she met with city leaders and former District 5 Captain Thomas Stigler.

"He mentioned something about maybe it's just some bad cops out there, that were doing things they weren't supposed to," Stowers said.

Since that meeting, Stigler has been promoted and another captain is in command of District 5. A police spokesman said that new captain will continue to work with Stowers, but she says nothing has changed.

Milwaukee police said Atkinson Avenue near the gas station is a hot-spot for crime.

They've investigated drug deals, violent crime and people who illegally have guns. That's why the department spokesperson said, "District 5 officers aggressively patrol the area to suppress these types of activities."

Across the street at another gas station, the clerk said they don't have the police issues on their property that Stowers said happen on hers.

The longtime business owner wants the police to do their job, but she's frustrated they're holding her business hostage for others irresponsible behavior.

"We're not allowing people to do criminal activity here," Stowers said. "That's not what I want to represent as a business owner."

The neighborhood is rallying around Stowers and her business. A Facebook page was even set up encouraging people to support the gas station.

Meanwhile, we just learned a meeting has been planned with the new District 5 captain.

We'll continue to follow this story and let you know what happens.

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