Newly released documents from the Milwaukee, Wisconsin police department reveal that authorities have investigated reports of the existence and activities of a "gang" of rogue police officers known as the Punishers that may have been operating in the city since at least 2005. They are alleged to wear black gloves, caps and tattoos brandishing skull emblems, inspired by the Marvel Comics vigilante. Some of the policemen in question were involved in the beating of Frank Jude, Jr. in 2004 and were convicted of civil rights violations and fired. However, documents released as part of Jude's civil action against the city and his attackers reveal that the Punishers may have remained active through 2008 despite having been stripped of their police authority.

Jude was accused, apparently falsely, in 2004 of stealing a wallet and police badge at a party for off-duty police. The alleged Punisher cops -- who decorated their vehicles, lockers and bodies with the familiar skull emblem -- beat him savagely, kicking him in the head and groin, cutting off his clothes, jamming pens in his ears and threatening him with a knife and a gun. The biracial Jude said the Punishers used racial slurs during the beating, and he is seeking $30 million in damages.

Police reports indicate Captain James Galezewski investigated the Punishers once in 2005 and again in 2007, and identified them as a real threat and that there may have been more than just those involved in the Jude affair. Galezewski wrote in his report:

"This is a group of rogue officers within our agency who I would characterize as brutal and abusive. At least some of the officers involved in the Jude case were associated with this group, although there is reason to believe the membership extended beyond those who were convicted in the case."

Milwaukee's Journal Sentinal reports that beyond the firing of the officers involved with the Jude case, little else was done with respect to the Punishers. The authority responsible for professional performance did not mention the group in its 82-page report on the beating, and the commander in charge of a new 2008 investigation said he could not confirm the group existed. However, Galezewski said he was never contacted about his earlier investigations for the 2008 report. Additionally, federal prosecutors did not mention the Punishers in the Jude trial. Assistant U.S. Attorney Mel Johnson told the Journal Sentinal, "We made a conscious decision not to use [the Punishers evidence]."

Along similarly curious lines, Police Chief Edward Flynn released a statement this week characterizing the Punishers as a rumor.

"Since 2005 there have been rumors of the existence of an organized group of officers engaged in vigilante-style activity calling themselves 'The Punishers.' There are indications that an investigation took place into these rumors prior to 2008," Flynn's statement said.

"I directed the Professional Performance Division in 2008 to conduct a thorough investigation. PPD interviewed a number of officers, they reviewed the complaint file and could find no evidence that such an organized group ever existed nor is there any record of citizen complaints to any local or federal authority regarding the activities alleged."

Chief Flynn's remarks suggest he is only vaguely aware of Galezewski's reports, in which the Captain was emphatic about the Punishers' existence and the threat they represented to the department. "I am frankly alarmed that a group of officers might think of themselves in this light," Galezewski wrote. "I think a group like that, anything they stand for is pretty much outrageous. It shouldn't have any place in the Milwaukee Police Department."

At least one member of the Punishers identified by Galezewski remains on the force, a man who wears a Punisher skull tattoo. "He is sending a clear message that he has every intention of exercising his authority as a police officer in an inappropriate and abusive way, and in my judgment, it would be irresponsible to allow him that opportunity."

You can read much more about this situation at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel website.