Prosecutor trust in Milwaukee shooting case that led to riots

FILE – This undated file photo provided by the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office shows a Milwaukee police officer Dominique Heaggan-Brown, who is charged with reckless homicide in the Aug. 13, 2016, shooting death of Sylville Smith, according to online court records Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016.


MILWAUKEE – The public prosecutor in charge a former Milwaukee police officer with the killing of a black man in a shooting that led to riots in Wisconsin’s largest city, said Friday that he is not trying to send a message to the public about the police use-of-force.

District Attorney John Chisholm said that he is confident that the facts of the crime of reckless murder charge against Dominique Heaggan-Brown.

Heaggan-Brown shot Sylville Smith, 23, during a traffic stop in August. According to the court documents, body cameras Heaggan-Brown and his partner wore showed Smith had a gun, but was unarmed when Heaggan-Brown, who is black, fired the fatal shot.

The shooting ignited two nights of rioting. The violence followed similar unrest in the cities of Ferguson, Missouri, to Baltimore, in response to the death of the black men in the hands of the police. The murder led to the nationwide Black Lives Matter movement is calling for major changes in the way the police deal with minorities.

Heaggan-Brown in October, on non-related charges in a case of sexual abuse, but the city had been waiting for months to see if the prosecutors would cost him in the shoot. Chisholm did just that Thursday morning, when he quietly submitted the crime of reckless murder charge against Heaggan-Brown.

Police chief Ed Flynn questioned Chisholm decision as early as Thursday evening, saying Heaggan-Brown face with a “combat situation.” Flynn said that he hoped Chisholm had more evidence than he has so far released.

Chisholm addressed reporters for the first time in the matter after Heaggan-Brown made his first appearance Friday. The attorney said that he understands Flynn’s perspective, but he emphasises the charging decision on the basis of the facts. He said that he was not trying to signal to minorities that the criminal justice system can treat them fairly.

“A criminal prosecution is not the forum to send a message,” Chisholm said. “There Is a legitimate problem in terms of police-community relations? No doubt about it. And nothing aggravates it more than the police-related shooting. But in an individual case, I have an ethical obligation to just look at the facts and … not to consider it strange things if the public sentiment. I strongly believe we have done a thorough job study of all the facts.”

According to the indictment, Heaggan-Brown stopped Smith’s vehicle on Aug. 13. Smith fled on foot between the houses in the neighborhood with a gun in his hand. Heaggan-Brown and his partner’s body cameras showed Smith to fall to the ground, stand up and raise his gun while facing Heaggan-Brown, the complaint said. Heaggan-Brown discharged and struck Smith in the arm. The video shows Smith threw his gun over a fence, although Heaggan-Brown told state agents he thought the gun flew out of Smith’s hand, the complaint said.

Heaggan-Brown then fired a second shot into Smith’s chest. Both shots were fired in less than two seconds.

Heaggan-Brown said that he thought Smith was reaching a different weapon in his waistband, so he fired the second time. The video, however, shows Smith to reach for his waistband after the second shot and that he was unarmed at that time, according to the complaint. Chisholm has refused to release the video, saying the footage is the proof.

The shooting sparked two nights of riots in Milwaukee’s predominantly black north side. Six businesses were burned, together with a patrol car. A man was shot, but survived his wound. About 40 people have been arrested in the three following nights, Smith is dead.

Heaggan-Brown was silent during his brief appearance Friday. Wearing shackles and a yellow anti-suicide smock, he said, only to say “yes” when the court Commissioner Grace Flynn asked if he understood that he would have to take a DNA sample.

The commissioner granted new york’s request for $100,000 cash bail, calling of the reckless murder charge is serious. Heaggan-Brown’s attorneys, Steven Kohn and Jonathan Smith, not the object.

Smith’s cousin, Thaddeus Ashford, told reporters after the proceedings that he did not think that Heaggan-Brown earned a bracket, and that the 60-year maximum sentence for reckless murder is too light. He accused the authorities of showing Heaggan-Brown favouritism, adding that he hates Heaggan-Brown and the entire state of Wisconsin.

“He can’t have more than 60 years and are still living in the prison … our cousin is still buried,” Ashford said.

Kohn and Smith said outside the court that they are concerned about Heaggan-Brown fair trial given the publicity surrounding the case. Smith said that he was planning to monitor comments on social media for potential evidence in support of moving the trial out of Milwaukee County. Kohn added that he had not thought that body camera video should be released before the trial.

The case that led to Heaggan-Brown’s firing because of an incident in the night of Aug. 14. According to a criminal complaint, Heaggan-Brown and another man went to a bar where they drank and watched tv-broadcasting of the unrest. The man told the researchers that Heaggan-Brown bragged that he could do anything he wanted without consequences. The man said he later wakes up to find Heaggan-Brown sexually assaulting him.

Heaggan-Brown was also charged with soliciting two other people for sex a few times since December 2015 and sexually assaulting another unconscious person in July 2016, and photograph of that victim naked.

His bail is set at $100,000 cash, in that case also.

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