State Senator Spencer Coggs said Derek Williams didn’t have to die in police custody if officers had followed the “Lacy Law.” Coggs authored the law as a State Representative and it was enacted in 1983, after the death of Ernest Lacy in police custody. The Lacy Law, in effect, requires any law enforcement officer to render or seek medical aid for any person in his or her custody. Failure to do so is a violation of the law and the law provides penalties if bodily harm results from the failure to render or seek that medical aid.
The taped footage of a dying Derek Williams has been seen by hundreds of thousands of people in a Milwaukee Police Department dash cam video. Williams was gasping for breath and pleading for help in the back of a squad car. The police now say officers should have been better trained. Sen. Coggs said, “When the police didn’t seek help for him, quite frankly, they broke the law, and that is current information all officers should be receiving as trainees.”
Coggs’ Lacy Law was named after Ernest Lacy, a 22 year old young Black man. He was stopped by the Milwaukee police on June 9, 1981 because he allegedly fit the description of a rape suspect. According to the police, Lacy resisted arrest and a struggle ensued. He was eventually subdued, arrested and placed in the back of a police van where he was later found dead. Two years after Lacy’s death, the Milwaukee Police and Fire Commission found five police officers guilty of failing to render first aid to Ernest.
Sen. Coggs said of the video, “We can painfully see officers ignoring a handcuffed Derek Williams suffocating in the back of a police vehicle while repeatedly pleading for medical help. This is eerily similar to the Ernest Lacy case in that Ernie also struggled with police and, according to a witness, police used excessive force that, without proper medical attention afterward cost him his life. That is why we marched for justice for Ernie Lacy, and I fought to enact the Lacy Law in 1983.”
Derek Williams’ parents and the mother of Williams’ children have retained legal counsel to explore possible law suits based, in part, on the police not adhering to the Lacy Law. Common Council members are investigating the role and conduct of the Milwaukee police officers, statements by Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn, the Milwaukee County District Attorney and the Milwaukee County Medical Examiner’s office. Many in the community are outraged and are planning a series of marches and actions similar to the Ernest Lacy protests. Also, members of community organizations are calling for an independent investigation of the case by the Federal United States Attorney.
Currently, the Police Department’s response has been that it will create “a critical incident review board” to delve into what procedures should be followed by officers when a person is in their custody.
Sen. Coggs added, “There is no doubt they should have followed what is current law and perhaps the life of Derek Williams would have been spared.”