FBI launches investigation into Williams’ death

Compiled by Courier Staff

Derek Williams holds his daughter Ta’Nijah Williams, who is now 3. (Family photo)

It has been a busy couple of weeks for Milwaukee’s police department, the office of the medical examiner and the Mayor, beginning with the release of a video showing the death of Derek Williams who died last year in police custody.

On Tuesday, Milwaukee District Attorney John Chisholm, and Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn held a joint press conference announcing illegal strip search charges being filed against four Milwaukee Police Officers, all from the 5th Police District, located on the northside of Milwaukee, a predominately African American area.

And after weeks of protests, marches and prayer vigils community leaders and a slew of elected officials including Mayor Tom Barrett have asked U. S. Attorney James Santelle to consider a federal investigation.

Chief Flynn stated during the press conference, “Quite frankly, I’m disgusted by the willful actions by some of the officers in our Police Department.” He also said he was disgusted by the inaction of others.

All four officers are White males. Flynn also stated that it was his own department to began the investigation through its internal affairs office after receiving numerous reports that the illegal searches had occurred.

Flynn and his department have been dealing with quite a bit of criticism from the manner in which other cases have been handled though. Prior to the community reaction to Derek Williams’ death in custody video, concern and complaints were made regarding the manner that the police handled a shooting investigation of a young boy, Darius Simmons by preventing his mother from being with her son at the scene. Flynn’s immediate reaction was that his officers did nothing wrong. Flynn has also been accused of reporting inaccurate statistics to the FBI and the public.

Members of the Common Council released a statement on Tuesday afternoon, prior the FBI press conference asking for a federal investigation into the pattern and practice of police misconduct. They stated that with the announcement this week that the District Attorney has brought criminal charges against the four police officers, they have reason to hope.

Further, they requested that the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Wisconsin conduct a general federal investigation into the entire department.

Well, in the late afternoon, the requests were officially answered. U.S. Attorney Santelle and FBI Milwaukee Special Agent Teresa L. Carlson announced that the FBI has launched a criminal civil rights investigation into the death of Derek Williams in Milwaukee police custody.

And at the same time, the U.S. Department of Justice is researching a possible pattern of civil rights abuses by Milwaukee police. Investigators will use the information to decide whether federal authorities should take formal action against the entire department.

Sonya Moore, mother of Derek Williams said that she wants to thank everyone in the community, and those officials who worked to make this happen. “I am so thankful, I could not have done this alone”. she stated.

Members of the Common Council are also welcoming the investigation. Ald. Milele Coggs stated that she is relieved and thankful for the news as well as are other members of the council.

Common Council president Willie L. Hines, Jr. says that now is a good time for the entire police department to be directly accountable to the Mayor’s office and the Common Council. The way it is now, the department is not obligated to be directly accountable to these entities. In short, the current structure of the system does not allow the council nor the Mayor to make the department do anything.

Santelle stated that he expects full cooperation from the Milwaukee Police Department, the Medical Examiner’s office and the District Attorney’s office. He also stated that it was that one of the pivotal reasons for the federal investigation was sparked by the change of cause of death from the Medical Examiner’s office, and the cries from the community.

The FBI will be setting up a special telephone number for the public to call with any information regarding experiences with police misconduct or regarding complaints and concerns of violations of civil rights at: 414-276-4684, the number should be in effect beginning Oct. 15.