A Milwaukee police officer who fatally shot a mentally ill man earlier this year will not face criminal charges, announced the county’s top prosecutor today.
On April 30, Christopher Manney shot 31-year-old Dontre Hamilton after employees at a Starbucks called to report a man sleeping in nearby park.
According to the Milwaukee Police Department, officers responded to the call twice and conducted a welfare check. Both of those interactions were peaceful – there was no physical contact with Hamilton, and the officers saw no need for additional action.
They left Hamilton in peace.
An hour later, Manney responded to the same call. Apparently, he didn’t know that other officers had already responded.
Police Chief Ed Flynn says Manney said that when the officer arrived, Hamilton was lying on the ground near the park.
Flynn said the officer helped the suspect to his feet and began to speak with him. As the officer began patting the man down, a struggle ensued. The officer withdrew his wooden baton and began to defend himself, Flynn said. During the struggle, the man took the baton from the officer and began to beat the officer in the head.
“The officer withdrew his sidearm and fired several shots at the individual, striking him numerous times and ultimately causing his death,” Flynn said.
Police Chief Flynn said Manney treated Hamilton like a criminal from the beginning of the incident, and instigated the fight with an inappropriate pat-down. The chief said Manney correctly identified Hamilton as mentally ill, but ignored his training and department policy:
“You don’t go hands-on and start frisking somebody only because they appear to be mentally ill,” Flynn said.
Chief Flynn fired Manney on October 15, not for using excessive force and killing a mentally ill person, but for not following department policy.
Can you wrap your head around that? I can’t.
“Several shots” is a huge understatement, by the way. Manney shot Hamilton FOURTEEN times, according to the autopsy report. And it isn’t like he missed a bunch of those shots. There were twenty-one gunshot-related wounds.
Trigger happy, much?
Not only did Manney shoot Hamilton, who was schizophrenic, fourteen times, he did so at 3:30 in the afternoon in a populated area:
The officer used a .40-caliber Smith & Wesson gun in the shooting, which occurred near a temporary Starbucks trailer within sight of moving traffic on N. Water St. and Kilbourn Ave. and as people walked along sidewalks.
Shortly after the burst of gunfire, people scurried for cover, some behind cars and some underneath the canopy that surrounds the sidewalk around City Hall.
Manney claimed that Hamilton took his baton and beat him with it. But at least one witness said that’s not what they saw happen:
Around 3:30pm, I heard a man yelling something to the effect of “HEY!”, and then I moved to the window to see what was happening. At that moment, I saw a white police officer standing off against Dontre, who was holding the officer’s own baton in a defensive posture against said officer. I didn’t see the beginning of the fight or how it broke out, but I never once saw Dontre strike the officer with the baton. Again, I never witnessed the baton in Dontre’s hand make contact with the officer. I’ve seen it reported that Dontre struck the officer’s head repeatedly with the baton—and it may have happened near the beginning of the fight—but I never saw it and neither did my coworker. During this fight, I hear my coworker exclaim “That’s Chris,” who is our beat cop for the area. He is better known among the employees that have been at that location for longer.
Chris, currently unarmed since he lost his baton, lunged at Dontre to retrieve his weapon but missed. I never witnessed Dontre attack Chris. Dontre only reacted to Chris’ lunge, in what appeared to be, a purely defensive way. After missing, Chris was frozen for a second, then reached down for his side arm. When he pulled this weapon out, I had a sickly feeling about what was going to happen next. Chris didn’t say anything to Dontre. Nothing like “calm down”, or “back away”, or anything of the sort, with his brandished firearm. He had his gun pointed at Dontre from about 10 feet away for a couple seconds. That’s when I heard the shots.
I counted the shots as they happened. I guess I expected Chris to just disable him, so I didn’t know how many shots to expect. I counted 3…then 5…then 7…then 10 all in very quick succession. Surely a trained police officer could have disabled Dontre without putting 10 bullets into him. With the rapid, rhythmic fire, there was no way Chris was stopping to check if Dontre was still alive. Count to 10 in your head in a fast-paced, rhythmic manner and ask yourself if you’re shooting to kill. While my cynical side knew what was going to happen to Dontre and compelled me to turn away, my coworker didn’t. They saw the whole thing play out. They will tell you the same thing about how once that gun was pulled out, it was Dontre’s end.
To read the rest of that witness’s story, please read Witness Tells Different Story About Wednesday’s MPD Killing of Man at Red Arrow Park.
Now, nearly eight months later, Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm announced that Manney will not be charged for killing Hamilton:
“This was a tragic incident for the Hamilton family and for the community,” Chisholm wrote in his report. “But, based on all the evidence and analysis presented in this report, I come to the conclusion that Officer Manney’s use of force in this incident was justified self-defense and that defense cannot be reasonably overcome to establish a basis to charge Officer Manney with a crime.”
The investigation into Hamilton’s death was supposed to follow a new law – one that we recently covered, coincidentally – that requires a team of at least two investigators from an outside agency to lead reviews into officer-involved shootings.
Now, that law was passed in April. Hamilton’s shooting occurred a week after Governor Scott Walker signed that bill into law. Hamilton’s death investigation was the first to be handled under the new law.
Guess what? At least half of the agents who handled this investigation worked for the Milwaukee police department prior to becoming state investigators:
Some are questioning whether the state’s investigation of his death is truly independent because the lead investigator for the state, Gilbert Hernandez, spent 35 years with the Police Department and DOJ supervisor David Klabunde, who provided the Justice Department’s report to the district attorney, spent 25 years with the Police Department.
Patrick Mitchell, deputy administrator of the Justice Department’s Division of Criminal Investigation, where Hernandez and Klabunde work, spent 27 years at MPD, retiring as an assistant chief.
Further, the two top administrators in the Justice Department’s Division of Law Enforcement Services, which supervises the State Crime Laboratory, also had long careers with the Milwaukee Police Department. Brian O’Keefe, administrator, rose to the rank of assistant chief of the Milwaukee police during his 30 years there. O’Keefe’s second-in-command, David Zibolski, worked for the Milwaukee police for 27 years.
The lab processed evidence from the scene of Hamilton’s death, such as ballistics evidence, according to law enforcement sources. (source)
Chisholm acknowledged the ties between the lead investigators and Milwaukee police during a news conference today, but said that, in his opinion, they were “completely independent and professional.” He added that he did not ask state investigators for an opinion on the use of force, but rather only the investigative report.
This part of JSOnline’s reporting is quite revealing and exposes what may be the core issue regarding police shootings:
One of the experts consulted by Chisholm was Emanuel Kapelsohn of the Peregrine Corporation, whom Chisholm cited as a leading national expert in use of force reviews. Chisholm said he adopted Kapelsohn’s conclusion: that there can be “little serious doubt that P.O. Manney was justified at firing at Dontre Hamilton, who was attacking him with a deadly weapon (baton).”
The conclusion continued: “The more difficult issue is whether P.O. Manney fired more shots than necessary, or continued firing after he could reasonably perceive that Hamilton was clearly no longer a threat.” The report then notes that Milwaukee police, like nearly all officers in America, are trained to fire “to stop the threat.”
Nearly all officers in America are trained to fire “to stop the threat.”
But what does that mean, exactly?
It means they shoot to kill, according to veteran officers, criminal law professors, researchers, and other experts who have been interviewed about the issue.
The NYPD’s cop union declared they are now a “wartime” police department after the fatal shootings of two of their officers last Saturday.
Things aren’t looking good for anyone right now.
Meanwhile, the Hamilton family is seeking a federal investigation into Dontre’s death.
Of course, he is appealing his firing. He also applied for disability, saying the shootings in Milwaukee and Ferguson have cost him sleep and made it difficult for him to think clearly. He also has said he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, reports CBS.
Gosh, poor guy. Cry me a river.
Hamilton’s family is trying to make some good come out of their loved one’s loss. They are working with Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, the police department, and other city leaders to have all officers receive Crisis Intervention Team training, considered the gold standard for working with people in psychiatric crisis, by 2017.
Manney did not have such training.
After the shooting, police officials emphasized Hamilton’s history of mental illness and said the mental health system failed him. Hamilton’s family has said he received treatment for schizophrenia but was not violent, reports JSOnline.
Talk about adding insult to injury.
Maybe the “mental health system” failed Hamilton, but it isn’t what killed him. Nice attempt at shifting the blame, though.
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