The Ryan Sanders Case Part 1: Getting Arrested For A Plan That Never Happened

How To Get Arrested For A Plan That Never Happened


Milwaukee, Wisconsin (PT) – Ryan Allyn Sanders, 18 years old, was arrested on April 19th 2016 as police accountability protests sprang nationwide. Months later, however, he was quietly released and presumed innocent of the charges against him. According to Ryan, he was offered little more than an apology by court officials pursuing his conviction.

Just two articles covered his case, and provided the same information. Those outlets didn’t cover his release, and only went off a Wauwatosa PD criminal complaint. For the sake of time, this article won’t retell the narrative first reported in 2016. Rather, this article will tell the story using documents obtained by TFC Network from courts, and the Wauwatosa Police Department. Some of this information may overlap with original reports, but much is new and exclusive.

Outlets reported Sanders was the head of a gang police called “Hell’s Fire Squadron” (HFS). Police claimed all HFS members were subordinate to Sanders, colloquially known as “the king”.  The case began with the arrest of an HFS member whose name was redacted in all but one police document. Although the boy was a minor at the time, it’s unknown if this is the reason his name is redacted. For the purpose of this article, we will refer to this individual as JV.

On February 25 2016, JV’s father notified police after finding ammunition hidden in his son’s room. Dad, concerned about his son’s behavior, turned over his tablet to the authorities. It was later concluded that he’d stolen the rounds from his grandparents house.

Wauwatosa (Tosa) police officers questioned the boy and obtained a warrant to look into the tablet. Among its numerous messages was a string dating back to early February. One of his friends–a 17 year old boy allegedly part of HFS we’ll call ND–was to appear in court on February 11th. In the chain, ND is asked how he’s doing in light of his upcoming hearing.

After encouraging ND to spend time with loved ones, JV’s tone took a sharp turn. He ensured “we are all going to have guns and we are going to make sure you get out unharmed and safe.” This was unprompted by ND in the message chain. He didn’t contribute to the “plan”, which was only to happen if ND went to jail. If so, then he was told JV and others would kill police officers, take their guns, and escape in a getaway car. In the message chain Tosa police used as evidence, JV’s plot seemed spontaneously presented. He also didn’t specify who would aid him.

Their conversation on February 9th, 2016 ended shortly after ND responded. “Sounds good”, he typed, WPD documents obtained by TFC via open records laws show. “Shit’s finna get crazy lmao”. Keep in mind, WPD discovered these messages on February 25th, well after ND’s court date.

WPD then examined messages between JV and Ryan Allyn Sanders. According to police documents, these were also sent on February 9th. After JV says he’d need help breaking ND out, Sanders typed “Imma make a call.” For his plan, JV asked Sanders, who he called “King”, for “back up” on ND’s February 11th court date. What exactly that back up entailed, and who was contacted, was never discussed.

On March 7th, 2016, Wauwatosa officers issued a warrant for Facebook data related to Sanders, JV, ND, and others. Access to what appeared to be a Facebook group labeled HFS was also ordered by the warrant. Officers, two of whom were current or former Tosa School Resource Officers, sought the following data:

  1. All basic user information including email, usernames and time stamps.
  2. User “neoprint” including contact information, mini-feed, status update history, notes, wall postings, friend listing, group listings, and future/past events and video listing with file name.
  3. All photo’s
  4. Private and inbox messages.
  5. IP longs, specifically source IP addresses.


A example of social media information authorities requested.

WPD documents obtained by TFC, in fact, state the warrant requested this data for the prior three years. Documents state ND later told officers HFS “usually meets online”. “He has only talked to HFS online”, the interview report read. Although he knew JV personally, ND told police he’d never met Ryan Sanders. They’d only spoken over Facebook.

JV’s plan never happened though, as he was arrested the morning of February 11th. WPD linked him to a graffiti incident at Wauwatosa East High School, where he’d been expelled months before. Police state JV spray painted HFS – which they claimed stood for Hell’s Fire Squadron – inside the school under Sanders’ orders. He allegedly painted “pig” and “fuck” on the school resource officer’s cruiser. That officer went on to become involved in the investigation, and helped conduct the interview with Ryan Sanders.

WPD officers who both monitored the group, and interviewed Ryan Sanders, however, stated they didn’t believe he ordered anything. A recording of the interview was obtained by TFC Network via open records requests.

The graffiti allegedly occurred in front of students “as school let out”, documents read. At other times, however, WPD reports sometimes say “over the nighttime hours.” JV allegedly ran from police and was arrested the next morning, February 11th– ND’s court date–but released that afternoon. It’s unclear if JV was charged with anything at that time, or simply let go. WPD documents show upon being released, JV messaged ND “please don’t tell me you’re in jail.”

Again keep in mind, this all happened before WPD was contacted by JV’s father on the 25th. By official account, officers were unaware of the “plot” when they arrested him on the 11th. Documents also showed numerous conversations between Sanders and other HFS members where it appears they felt they were being monitored by police. One chain on February 9th has Sanders telling group members not to respond to a “compromised” group chat.

An example of a conversation where HFS is discussing possible surveillance.

Once JV was turned in, ND’s court appearance was rescheduled. Ryan Sanders, however, wasn’t arrested for another two months. WPD contacted Sanders asking him to voluntarily come to the station to for a couple questions. Sanders cooperated, and wasn’t detained until after the interview was over. Officers made it clear he wasn’t under arrest, and was welcome to leave at any point. Based off their evidence, and Sanders’ testimony, he was charged with conspiracy to commit first degree intentional homicide. If convicted, he faced 60 years in prison.

During his April 19th interview, Ryan Sanders admitted to the interviewing school resource officer that he knew HFS was being monitored. This was after the officer stated “I’ve looked over close to 40,000 pages of social media, so I’ve seen a lot of stuff. Whether it be your conversations, or others. And we obtain that”, the officer said, waving his arms briefly to indicate he wouldn’t say how the information was gathered. Later in the conversation, when a traumatic event in Sanders’ childhood is brought up, the officer states, “yeah I read that somewhere.” The officer also stated he’d “read” a lot on HFS through the surveillance WPD was using. It’s unknown at this time, however, whether WPD actually was monitoring the group prior to February 11, 2016 or how.

In a way, Sanders was arrested for a ghost crime. He hadn’t given JV the idea, and was linked to the conversations after he offered to provide JV with “back up.” However, in an interview with Journalists, and his police interview, Sanders states the backup wasn’t for violence.

Notes in an incident report noting Ryan didn’t want to conduct violence, but condoned self defense if police shot first.


Although he arranged for associates to accompany JV to ND’s court date, he didn’t support an attack. In fact, he told officers that he’d wanted the “backup” to stop JV from doing “something stupid” like shoot police officers. However, if a violent confrontation occurred, then Sanders condoned self-defense. Though still questionable, it’s a detail lost in original reporting. Additionally, after being arrested for the spray painting, JV told officers he would “do anything he was ordered to do except shoot someone”.

It was an investigation which worked backwards over a discontinued plot discovered allegedly by accident. The case raises many implications not only for itself, but others WPD and colleagues may be working on. Especially when it involves minors and high school students, how extensive is social media surveillance?  Many questions linger between the lines of Tosa PD’s files on the case, including HFS itself. Was Sanders the leader of the “Hell’s Fire Squadron”, and was the group a dangerous gang? If things were so clean cut, then why was Sanders cleared and freed?


Continue this series in part 2, The Gang That Never Quite Existed