Milwaukee, WI – The Milwaukee Police Department let loose on local news station WISN 12 on Friday, calling their posting of a story about a fallen officer “tasteless, classless and insulting.”
In a press release posted to Twitter in the early hours of Feb. 8, the police department called out the local ABC affiliate for an inappropriate story they ran 28 hours after Milwaukee Police Officer Matthew Rittner was murdered in the line of duty.
Officer Rittner, a Marine Corps veteran with 17 years on the force, was fatally shot while serving a warrant with the department’s Tactical Enforcement Unit on Wednesday morning.
The title of the article posted to the WISN website and Facebook page on Thursday was “Fallen officer named in federal civil rights lawsuit filed after carjacker’s violent arrest.”
The Milwaukee PD argued that while that was factually true – Officer Rittner was on the scene of that 2017 incident – the fallen hero had already been cleared of wrongdoing by the department’s Internal Affairs Division before he died.
In fact, police bodycam showed that Officer Rittner was one of the first to render aid to the defendant who was suffering a medical crisis at the scene, the press release said.
The police department’s press release said the article “has no academic value and was created to stir up controversy where none exists.
The Milwaukee PD asked WISN to remove the article from their website, and the station complied.
WISN News Director Ben Hart issued an apology from the station for the “insensitivity” of the post.
However, the article headline still appeared on Google searches and was visible through the archives on numerous devices, the press release complained.
“MPD once again expresses that the article written by WISN 12 was not only reprehensible, it was a distasteful attack on the reputation of a fallen hero,” the press release read.
“He had dedicated 17 years of his life to the Milwaukee Police Department and the City of Milwaukee,” Milwaukee Police Chief Alfonso Morales said at a press conference on Feb. 6.
Officer Rittner had been a member of the TEU for a decade, and was the recipient of multiple medals and awards during his law enforcement career.
In 2015, he and the TEU helped to rescue hostages from a gunman, the Journal Sentinel reported.
“The tactical team raced down the stairwell to save the hostages from the gunman,” his Medal of Valor commendation read. “This group’s bravery and courage demonstrated their commitment to the citizens.”
Officer Rittner also received an award for meritorious service after he ran into a burning building to rescue a woman who had been held against her will.
He and other TEU members ended up going back into the building a second time to make sure no one else was trapped inside.
“He truly was a professional,” Chief Morales said. “A great human being.”
“This is a very, very, very difficult time for our city, for the Milwaukee Police Department. Obviously for the family that has been affected,” Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said, according to WMTV. “I am filled with sorrow with this needless loss. At the same time, I am filled with anger over the individual who did this to a police officer.”
Officer Rittner was also a U.S. Marine for eight years, and served three tours in the Middle East.
While serving in Iraq in 2004 and 2005, his vehicles were hit by roadside bombs on three separate occasions, the Journal Sentinel reported.
"We all knew that every time we loaded into those vehicles, it might be our last," Officer Rittner’s platoon sergeant, Ryan Lackey, told the paper. “He was just fearless.”
"He was a Humvee driver for an entire tour that we drove only unarmored vehicles,” Lackey explained. “If you took a direct hit from an IED or RPG, you were dead. We called them ‘suicide sleds.’”
He also fought in a four-and-one-half-hour battle during that tour. One of his fellow Marines was killed during the firefight.
Guillermo Rosales, who commanded the Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 24th Marines, during Officer Rittner's deployment to Iraq in 2008, described him as an American patriot.
“I can see that he had a moral obligation to do the right thing and to serve, give his life to others," Rosales told the Journal Sentinel. “He was a great American, a great patriot.”
"If you were to draw a picture of a United States Marine or draw a picture of a perfect police officer, that would be him," said Max Zaruba, a friend who served alongside Officer Rittner in the military.
Officer Rittner would have celebrated his 36th birthday next week, according to Chief Morales.