As previously reported here, Milwaukee Police Department (“MPD”) Officer Christopher Manney shot and killed 31-year-old Dontre Hamilton at Red Arrow Park in downtown Milwaukee on April 30, 2014. Following the incident, MPD Chief of Police Edward Flynn fired Officer Manney, because Officer Manney conducted an improper pat-down search of Mr. Hamilton, who was lawfully in the park. According to Chief Flynn, Officer Manney did not have the required suspicion that Mr. Hamilton was dangerous, but instead conducted the pat-down search based on the assumption that Mr. Hamilton was mentally ill and homeless. The improper pat-down search led to the confrontation where Officer Manney killed Mr. Hamilton.
This tragic incident is the first test of a new Wisconsin law where law enforcement agencies cannot investigate themselves after a death in police custody. Under the law, a team of at least two investigators from an outside agency will investigate in-custody deaths, and then release reports from the investigation to the public if criminal charges are not filed against the law enforcement officers involved. For the shooting of Mr. Hamilton, the State of Wisconsin Department of Justice Division of Criminal Investigations (“DCI”) conducted the investigation. On August 8, 2014, the DCI provided a report of its investigation to Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm, who then hired an outside expert to review former Officer Manney’s use of force against Mr. Hamilton.
On Monday, December 22, 2014, Mr. Chisholm announced that he would not file criminal charges against former Officer Manney. According to Mr. Chisholm, Officer Manney’s use-of-force was justified self-defense. Officer Manney claimed to be in fear for his life because Mr. Hamilton had allegedly grabbed the officer’s baton and struck the officer. Regarding the 14 shots that Officer Manney fired at Mr. Hamilton, the outside expert concluded that there was “little serious doubt” that Officer Manney was justified in shooting Mr. Hamilton, and that police officers are trained to keep shooting until they stop the threat.
The family of Dontre Hamilton expressed their disappointment with the decision not to charge Officer Manney. “We deserve justice, justice is our right,” Dontre’s brother Nathan Hamilton said during a press conference. Motivated to see something good come from this tragedy, the family of Dontre Hamilton has pushed for improved mental health training for MPD officers. On Thursday, December 18, 2014, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett announced that, thanks to the Hamilton family’s efforts, all MPD officers will be required to receive 40 hours of mental health training in a program known as the Crisis Intervention Team (“CIT”). “The Hamilton family thinks all officers should have this CIT training and I agree with them,” Mayor Barrett said. The CIT training instructs officers on recognizing the signs and symptoms of mental illness. Mayor Barrett commended the Hamilton family for having the strength to push for the new training in the shadow of tragedy. “I don’t know if I could do this,” the Mayor said, “I don’t know if any of you could.”
The Milwaukee civil rights lawyers of Samster, Konkel & Safran are part of the legal team which represents the family of Dontre Hamilton. We will continue to work for justice for Mr. Hamilton and his family. In fact, the United States Department of Justice has responded to our request and will conduct a federal review of the case. Please continue to follow our Blog for updates on the case.