JEFFERSON — A 21-year-old Milwaukee man accused of shoplifting at the Johnson Creek Outlet Mall and then leading authorities on a high-speed chase appeared Tuesday in Jefferson County Court, where he requested a new lawyer less than one week before a jury trial was scheduled.
Judge Bennett Brantmeier initially seemed inclined to deny the request of public defender John Chavez to withdraw from the case, but he ultimately granted the motion.
“The time to request a substitution has passed,” Brantmeier said, adding that it seemed like a stall tactic. “I see you as a competent and able attorney, but I will grant the request.”
Chavez said he thought withdrawing was a good idea because he and his client, Thomas A. Mitchem III, had come to an impasse on how to proceed with the case.
“I think it would be appropriate for me to withdraw,” Chavez said. “We’d come to an agreement a while back, but he’s not comfortable going forward with a plea.”
Chavez said he could not tell the court too much about the decision due to attorney-client privilege, but he did shed some light on the disagreement between him and Mitchem.
“I don’t think it’s wise to go to trial,” Chavez said. “But my client disagreed, so I told him I think it’s best to have another lawyer look at it.”
Mitchem is accused of entering the Tommy Hilfiger store around 5:30 p.m. on Christmas Eve of 2018 with a friend, grabbing about 17 items valued at a total $1,548 and fleeing the store in a blue Toyota RAV4, according to the criminal complaint.
The items taken include jackets, hoodies, fleeces, joggers, black denim, a hat, shirts and underwear, the complaint states.
After Mitchem and his friend left the store, a Johnson Creek Police officer received the theft report and saw the RAV4 stopped at a light, according to the complaint. The officer turned around and followed the SUV onto the eastbound Interstate 94 ramp. After the officer turned on on his lights and siren, the vehicle sped off.
The officer said he was in pursuit of the vehicle traveling between 100-120 mph and was unable to get closer than 500 yards from the RAV4, according to the complaint. The SUV was passing traffic on the right shoulder and weaving in and out of traffic, the complaint states.
Eventually, the officer lost sight of the vehicle and ended his chase. He went back to the store to interview witnesses.
While the officer was interviewing witnesses, he was told that Waukesha County Sheriff’s Department deputies had spotted a blue RAV4 and began a pursuit, according to the complaint.
The deputies had spotted the Toyota traveling 100 mph in Waukesha County and chased it into Milwaukee County, where it crashed near the Hollow Road exit, the complaint states.
At the crash scene, the Johnson Creek officer found the RAV4 with several Tommy Hilfiger clothing items inside, according to the complaint.
Mitchem, who was in custody at the Waukesha County Jail, was transferred to Jefferson County and charged.
If convicted, Mitchem faces a maximum sentence of seven years for two counts of felony retail theft and one count of felony fleeing.
Now that Mitchem has requested a new attorney, the case has been delayed several months. A final status conference has been scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Monday, Dec. 30, with a jury trial set for Jan. 6, 2020, at 8:30 a.m.