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Neighbors collect remnants from outside a home that was burned June 23, 2020, during civil unrest. The duplex was again set on fire the following day, June 24, 2020. (Rick Wood/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Neighbors collect remnants from outside a home that was burned June 23, 2020, during civil unrest. The duplex was again set on fire the following day, June 24, 2020. (Rick Wood/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Neighbors collect remnants from outside a home that was burned June 23, 2020, during civil unrest. The duplex was again set on fire the following day, June 24, 2020. (Rick Wood/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

By Lawrence Andrea August 3, 2020

Conspiracy linking Milwaukee police with alleged sex trafficking house conspiracy is unfounded

If Your Time is short

  • Milwaukee police say they were protecting the residents of a home a crowd of people burned down believing it was a sex trafficking hub 

  • The house does not belong to a registered sex offender

  • The two missing girls believed by the crowd to be at the house were found three miles away and denied ever being at the house

More than a month after a crowd of people set fire to a Milwaukee home they believed was a sex trafficking hub, conspiracy theories continue to surround a chaotic and confusing series of events.

But those theories are no truer now than they were at the time.

An array of claims stemming from the brief disappearance of two teenage girls in late June 2020 have made the rounds on social media accounts and in Reddit forums.

A June 28, 2020 Facebook post — which features an image of a tweet — packs many of them together. The post has generated more than 20,000 likes, though that’s a fraction of how many times it has been seen. Here is what it reads:

"Are we just not going to talk about the fact Milwaukee police were caught on camera sneaking children into a van with masks over their face after a mother tracked her missing daughters phone to a registered sex offenders home & the cops were already there protecting the house ?!?!" 

This post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook).

Let’s unpack this unfounded claim.

What we know about the incident

According to a June 23, 2020 examination of what happened that day from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, two girls, ages 13 and 15, were last seen in the 2900 block of North 21st Street at around 5 p.m. June 21, 2020. They were reported missing four hours later.

On June 22, 2020, police responded to the 2100 block of North 40th Street in reference to the report of the missing girls. 

Milwaukee Police Department call logs show police twice went to the block that night — for a "trouble with subject" call and for a report of a threat. Police searched the house in question, but did not find the missing girls.

The morning of June 23, 2020, a group of people congregated outside the home in question  after seeing social media posts about the house and the two missing girls. Many expressed frustration that police were not doing enough to locate the girls.

Police were called to the house shortly after 10 a.m. after several people allegedly tried entering the home to look for the girls themselves. Police again searched the home and said later the girls were not located there -- just as they had not been the night before. 

In a video that was live streamed to Facebook, Milwaukee community activist Vaun Mayes is heard saying that people were again trying to enter the house shortly before three or four gunshots were heard, followed by six more shots. Nobody was hurt in that exchange.

Shortly after, the house was set on fire.

More gunshots were eventually fired from the crowd, injuring a boy and girl, both 14 years old, police said. Police at the time noted no officers fired a gun during the incident, but they did use nonlethal munitions, including rubber bullets. 

Another shooting was reported near the scene, and shortly before 12:30 a.m. on June, 24, 2020, the house was again set on fire. 

It’s unclear when the two girls were found, but police said they were located by one of their mothers more than three miles from the house. 

The two girls denied ever being at the 40th Street house and ever knowing anyone who lived there, police said. No evidence of human trafficking was discovered at the house.

On July 28, 2020, a Milwaukee man was charged with arson and attempted arson.

The claim

The June 28, 2020 Facebook post includes a number of parts to the claim, all of them off target. We’ll break it down piece-by-piece.

"Milwaukee police were caught on camera sneaking children into a van with masks over their face." 

A video posted to Reddit purports to show this happening. 

In the video, a man is heard saying "(police) pulled the van up to the door so they can sneak that s--- out." The video, which is blurry, then shows a number of people leaving the house with colorful coverings over their heads as officers direct them into a vehicle. 

It isn’t possible to determine how old the people are from the video. One person in a yellow head covering appears to be as tall as one of the officers. A subsequent person wearing pink appears to be half the size.

In a statement to PolitiFact Wisconsin, Milwaukee Police said the people seen leaving the home with the officers "were the residents who lived there" and that they were removed after they heard people in the crowd threatening them. 

Meanwhile, a woman who lived at the burned-out home told the Journal Sentinel on June 25, 2020 the people in the house "had nothing to do with this."

"A mother tracked her missing daughters phone to a registered sex offenders home." 

It is not entirely clear how the group ended up at the house. Many of the theories circling online echo this part of the claim.

It is unclear if the mother was even at the house that morning, or how the house was identified. But the essential part of this piece of the claim is that it was the home of a registered sex offender. It was not. 

A PolitiFact Wisconsin review of the Wisconsin Sex Offender Registry revealed no sex offenders listed at the house in question. One registered sex offender, however, was listed as living in a house next door. 

"The cops were already there protecting the house." 

This line takes nearly all the context out of the situation. 

Police were originally called to the house on June 22, 2020 for a "trouble with subject" call and for a report of a threat. 

They were again at the house at various points throughout the day June 23, 2020 after people allegedly tried to enter the house, shots were fired on the premises and the house was set on fire twice. 

Police did establish a perimeter around the house. Officials told PolitiFact Wisconsin that was after someone in the house exchanged gunfire with a member of the crowd. 

At another point, police had to escort firefighters toward the house while the crowd threw bricks and other projectiles, according to the Journal Sentinel report. 

Our ruling

A June 28, 2020 Facebook postclaimed Milwaukee police were protecting a sex offender's house and snuck children out of it after a mom tracked her missing daughter to that address.

The post spins a series of unfounded allegations into a conspiracy theory that simply does not hold water.

We rate this claim False. 

Our Sources

Trillz DeMoura, Facebook, June 28, 2020

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Here's what we know about the chaos that unfolded Tuesday near a Washington Park home, June 23, 2020

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 'We had nothing to do with this': Milwaukee woman had just given birth when the house where she lived was set on fire during unrest, June 24, 2020

Medium, Unheard Voices: Are Police Participating In Sex Trafficking In Milwaukee?, June 24, 2020

Reddit, r/MilwaukeeGate, June 24, 2020

Reddit, Video of "children exiting", slowed down 2x, zoomed in. I label at least 3, possibly 4 from this one video, June 24, 2020

Wisconsin Department of Corrections, Sex Offender Registry, July 30, 2020

Email with Amanda Bailey, sister-in-law of woman at house, July 27, 2020

Phone call with Jaleesa Hall, woman who lived at house, July 27, 2020

Email with Sheronda Grant, Milwaukee police spokesperson, July 27, 2020

 

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Conspiracy linking Milwaukee police with alleged sex trafficking house conspiracy is unfounded

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