By Dylan Deprey and Karen Stokes
A jury found former-Milwaukee Police Department officer Dominique Heaggen-Brown not guilty in the shooting death of Sylville Smith on June 21, 2017.
The City of Milwaukee witnessed its underlying tensions between police and the community as Sherman Park erupted in flames following Smith’s death on Aug. 23, 2016.
Heaggan-Brown, 25, was charged with first-degree reckless homicide for shooting Smith after a foot pursuit in the Sherman Park neighborhood.
The body cam footage, shown to the jury and released to the public, retold the last 16 seconds of Smith’s life.
Smith fled his vehicle during a traffic stop, and ran from two MPD officers where he ended up between two houses. As Smith attempted to jump over a fence, he slipped and was shot once in the bicep. Smith’s firearm either fell or was thrown his hand, and nearly 2 seconds later Heaggan-Brown fired again hitting Smith in the chest. Smith was then sent to his back.
Prosecutor, Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm told jurors that Heaggan-Brown did not need to use deadly force as Smith was in “one of the most vulnerable positions that he can possibly be in.”
The Defense argued Heaggan-Brown was acting in self-defense.
A transcript from the bodycam footage given to the jury showed that Heaggan-Brown was stung by a bee as the shooting occurred.
“It happened so quick. I didn’t know. I just felt my arm was hot. I’m like-,” Heaggan Brown said.
“Like you mighta got shot?” added another officer.
Officers then called for back-up and the fire department.
Following the shooting, MPD fired Heaggan-Brown due to code of conduct violations. He was later accused of sexual assault on a separate occasion days after the shooting.
The Families, attorneys, elected officials and Sherman Park neighbors and community advocates including: Vaun L. Mayes, Tory Lowe and Frank Nitty spoke about the verdict at different areas across the city.
David Owens, attorney representing the Smith family
“This is a distressing moment. The jury’s verdict is obviously shocking and troubling but we’re also here to announce that all criminal justice is one form of justice and not the only form of justice. In fact, we open a new door today. We file a lawsuit against the City of Milwaukee and Officer Heaggan-Brown.
The civil rights act was created to ensure that individuals who do not fare well in state courts because there might be inherent bias. We have the opportunity to vindicate their civil rights in federal court and that’s what we intend to do because the truth of the matter is Officer Heaggan-Brown shouldn’t have been on the force at all. He shouldn’t have been on the street that day and what the people of the City of Milwaukee don’t know is this guy after three years wrapped up complaint, after complaint of use of force but the City of Milwaukee did nothing. This guy is somebody we now know was engaged in all kinds of criminal conduct. Shouldn’t have been there, the department knew about it but they don’t care because they defend officers with impunity. It allows them to kill, shoot first and ask questions later.
We will bring accountability, we will bring justice to the situation. We intend to hold the City of Milwaukee responsible for their policies and practices that led to this egregious violation of civil rights that ended in the loss of life and we know the residents of Milwaukee have already been lied to.
Recall after the shooting, Police Chief Flynn said, “Oh man, this Officer is in hiding, he’s running for his life”, that’s a lie. He was at a bar bragging about the shooting, committing other crimes. That’s what happened and that was just the first lie.
So, this isn’t over at all by any means, in fact this is just a new beginning and that’s the important thing that justice will live to find another day and this is not over by any means.”
Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm
“First, I want to express my sorrow to the Sylville Smith family. A couple of observations related to this process that has been going on since August 15, as you know I have always taken a strong interest in officer involved shootings. There are always circumstances that require our full attention from the system.
I’ve also always taken the position that I would take the responsibility for making a decision of whether or not I believe there was sufficient evidence to prosecute a case if the facts merited that and this is a case where I felt the facts merited and that the case had to be charged and had to be decided by the jury.
That’s what happened.
You’ll often hear prosecutors tell you at the end of a trial in which the trial doesn’t go the way they wanted is that they respect the jury’s verdict. They were sequestered, that hasn’t happen in this county for a long time but we wanted them to focus on the facts and come to a decision to the best of their ability and that’s what they’ve done. I don’t have to agree with the decision but I always have to respect that decision.
This is a case that required close attention and we gave it that attention. We prosecuted a strong case, we worked closely and I was tremendously proud of the work that the Wisconsin Department of Justice Division of Criminal Investigation did. This is not an easy thing for law enforcement agencies to do, to investigate themselves. They did a professional job, they did a thorough job. They provided my office with the information necessary to pursue this case. We pursued it aggressively, we presented a strong case and once again this is just an issue that the community had to decide, they made that decision and there’s things we can learn going forward but the decision has been made and I respect that.”
Smith’s sister left the city of Milwaukee with words of unity and peace.
“Don’t give them a reason to take your life. Try as hard as you can to be peaceful and form unity with each other–black or white,” She said. “We all bleed the same. We all hurt the same.”