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U.S. Opens Probe into Milwaukee Officer's Fatal Shooting of Black Man
From the Wall Street Journal of Mon, 22 Dec 2014 17:39:02 EST
Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm demonstrates the bullet trajectory at a news conference on Monday in Milwaukee.
Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm demonstrates the bullet trajectory at a news conference on Monday in Milwaukee. Associated Press

*US Justice Department to Open Civil Rights Probe into Milwaukee Police Shooting

*Announcement Follows Decision by County Prosecutor Not to Charge Officer

(More to Come)

A Milwaukee County prosecutor won’t charge a white officer in the April death of a black man, setting the stage for what could be a tense night of protests as use of deadly force by police remains in the national spotlight.

In a report released Monday, District Attorney John Chisholm found Milwaukee Police Officer Christopher Manney was justified in the shooting death of Dontre Hamilton, saying Mr. Hamilton took the officer’s baton, swung it and came toward him.

“It’s very hard to charge an officer with homicide if he’s doing what he’s trained to do,” said Mr. Chisholm at a news conference.

But lawyers for the family of Mr. Hamilton disputed the district attorney’s findings, saying the 31-year-old was defending himself against Mr. Manney, who escalated the situation at a city park shortly after his colleagues earlier in the afternoon allowed Mr. Hamilton to continue sleeping there. Mr. Manney was subsequently dismissed from the police force—not for the shooting, but for allegedly conducting an improper pat-down moments before it.

“Conclusions could easily have been drawn otherwise, and we feel this is just one more unfortunate decision by a prosecutor not to issue criminal charges against a police officer,” said Jonathan Safran, a lawyer for Mr. Hamilton’s family.

Mr. Chisholm’s decision comes amid protests across the country over the use of deadly force following the deaths of Eric Garner on Staten Island, N.Y., and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., during confrontations with police. Months of peaceful demonstrations have been overshadowed at times by violence, including the killing of two New York City police officers on Saturday and looting and arson in Ferguson last month.

On Monday, protesters began gathering at Red Arrow Park across from Milwaukee City Hall where Mr. Hamilton was shot. His family members called for peaceful protests following the decision. Dozens of demonstrators were arrested Friday after blocking a main interstate through Milwaukee.

“We must wake the people up, we must show them that injustice does exist,” Nate Hamilton, brother of Mr. Hamilton, said at a news conference. “The power of the people will not be deactivated until justice is consistent.”

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said the city’s police have been handling protests appropriately, and he hasn’t requested assistance from the National Guard to deal with possible demonstrations in the coming days. Guard troops were used in Missouri after protests turned violent there last month.

“We cannot allow all police officers in this nation and police officers in this city to be demonized,” the mayor said. But the decision not to charge the officer “does not ease tensions felt by citizens and police,” he said.

Mr. Chisholm’s report details the shooting and events that led up to it. Officers were called to the park by an employee of a coffee kiosk because a man was sleeping nearby. Two officers arrived, checked on Mr. Hamilton, and left because he wasn’t disturbing anyone.

Mr. Manney, who didn’t respond because initially he was on another call, told his supervisor he would also respond although the call had been addressed. In his statement to investigators, the officer assumed that no one had responded to the first call and that is why he decided to go to the park.

Witnesses and Mr. Manney describe a confrontation between Mr. Hamilton and the officer as he searched him. Mr. Hamilton got hold of Mr. Manney’s police baton, and Mr. Manney said he feared Mr. Hamilton would attack him and he would die as a result, according to the report.

“The use of deadly force against Dontre Hamilton was not a choice P.O. Manney made voluntarily, but was instead a defensive action forced upon him,” according to Mr. Chisholm’s report.

The report also found Mr. Manney fired an acceptable number of shots under the circumstance, discharging his firearm approximately 14 times. Some witnesses reported seeing the final shots fired after Mr. Hamilton was on the ground.

Lawyers for the family of Mr. Hamilton, who suffered from mental illness, question why Mr. Manney confronted Mr. Hamilton after other officers had found no problem. They said Mr. Hamilton was waiting to meet family in the park after he had stayed at a hotel downtown the previous night because of electrical problems at his apartment. The lawyers plan to file a federal lawsuit and have requested the U.S. Justice Department conduct its own investigation.

Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn dismissed Mr. Manney from the force for conducting an allegedly improper pat-down that led to the confrontation. The chief has called the use of force at the time of shooting justified, but has also said he is looking to hold officers accountable for questionable decisions leading up to such confrontations. Mr. Manney has appealed his dismissal.

“Officer Manney’s actions were reasonable and justified considering the threat—while truly an unfortunate situation, there simply was no other option available,” said Mike Crivello, president of the Milwaukee Police Association, in a statement.

Write to Mark Peters at mark.peters@wsj.com and Ben Kesling at benjamin.kesling@wsj.com



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