MILWAUKEE — In one of the most highly anticipated legal decisions in recent memory, Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm announced Monday that former Milwaukee Police Officer Christopher Manney will not be charged in connection with the fatal shooting of Dontre Hamilton in the city’s Red Arrow Park.
Hamilton’s family has repeatedly called for Manney — who has since been fired — to face criminal charges, but Chisholm determined that Manney’s use of force was justified self-defense. Hamilton’s death has been the subject of a series of protests in downtown Milwaukee, led by his family and supporters.
Speaking to supporters outside the Federal Courthouse, Nathaniel Hamilton, brother of Dontre Hamilton, said he and the other family members will not waver from their cause.
“We deserve justice,” he said. “Justice is our right.”
One of the attorneys representing Hamilton’s family said Monday he is asking for a federal investigation to determine if federal charges are warranted against Manney.
“Milwaukee has had more than its share of cases with claims of excessive force, deaths and civil rights violations at the hands of Milwaukee and other law enforcement officers,” attorney Jonathan Safran said.
The FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office already have the investigative materials, Chisholm said.
“We were informed that they were conducting their own review but they can give us no timeline for when they’ll come to their decision,” Chisholm said. “As I said, I anticipate the venue will move from the state level to the federal level next.”
U.S. Attorney James Santelle confirmed Monday afternoon that the U.S. Department of Justice will undertake a federal review of the case.
Manney shot Hamilton 14 times on April 30 during an incident that began when workers at the nearby Starbucks called police to complain about him sleeping in the downtown park. A pair of officers checked on Hamilton twice and found he was doing nothing wrong, according to a Milwaukee police internal affairs investigation.
Manney was not aware the other officers already had been to the park when he retrieved a voice mail regarding Hamilton’s presence there and responded to the call, that internal investigation showed.
As Manney began to pat down Hamilton, Hamilton fought him, and a confrontation ensued. Manney tried to use his baton to subdue Hamilton, but Hamilton got control of it and swung it at Manney, hitting him on the side of the neck, according to Milwaukee police internal affairs.
Manney then shot Hamilton repeatedly. Milwaukee police are trained to shoot to stop a threat, and the weapons they use fire multiple rounds quickly. An expert quoted in the district attorney’s report estimated that the shots fired by Manney would have taken place in three to four seconds, while a demonstration on a training range showed 14 shots being fired in 2.99 seconds.
Seventeen witnesses reported they observed Manney “in shock,” “upset” or “distraught” immediately after the shooting, according to Chisholm’s report.
In days after the shooting, police officials highlighted 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.
Hamilton’s family members worked 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.
Police Chief Edward Flynn fired Manney in October — not for using excessive force, but because he did not follow department rules in the moments leading up to the shooting.
Reacting to district attorney’s decision Monday, Flynn said it was clear that Chisholm “put an extraordinary amount of thought into it” and came to a decision “deeply rooted in law and precedent.”
The investigation into Hamilton’s death must follow a new state law that requires an outside investigation, but some have questioned whether the investigation of his death by the state’s Division of Criminal Investigation is truly independent because the lead agents involved are former Milwaukee police officers.
Chisholm acknowledged the state investigators’ history with the Milwaukee Police Department during a news conference Monday, but said it was 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.
State law also requires reports of custody death investigations throughout the state to be publicly released if criminal charges are not filed against the officers involved. Chisholm’s office released numerous documents and exhibits, while the state’s report was released Monday by the state Department of Justice. The Milwaukee County medical examiner’s office also released the full autopsy report on Hamilton.
The Milwaukee County district attorney’s office received the state’s report on Aug. 8, and Chisholm also consulted with a national use-of-force expert who returned a report on the shooting to Chisholm on Wednesday.
The investigation, including hiring the outside expert, cost about $20,000, Chisholm said.
The district attorney examined whether Manney acted in self-defense, because, at the time the fatal shots were fired, Hamilton had grabbed Manney’s baton and hit him in the neck with it.
Police officers are held to the same self-defense standard as anyone else. The key is whether an individual believed that his or her life was in immediate danger and that deadly force was necessary.
Under self-defense guidelines, even if it turns out there was no real threat, someone could still have a self-defense claim because that person actually believed he or she was in danger and any reasonable person would have believed the same thing.
Manney told internal investigators he did believe those things. He also told Chisholm and other state investigators that after Hamilton hit him once on the neck with the baton, he drew his gun and Hamilton continued to approach.
Manney said “he feared Hamilton would attack him with the baton and that he ‘would be dead’ as a result,” according to Chisholm’s report. Manney released medical records to the district attorney’s office that showed he had a small cut to his thumb, a right neck strain and a bruise on the right side of his neck.
Later, Manney was treated for “post-concussion syndromes and mild traumatic brain injury as well as physical therapy for bicep and rotator cuff injuries,” the district attorney’s report states.
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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.”
Manney is believed to be the first officer in Milwaukee fired as a result of a fatal on-duty shooting in at least 45 years. He has appealed his termination to the city’s Fire and Police Commission. The date of the appeal hearing has yet to be set.
Manney also has applied for duty disability, saying the Red Arrow Park shooting and its aftermath resulted in severe post-traumatic stress disorder. He joins a growing number of officers suspected of misconduct who have applied for duty disability claiming debilitating stress, sometimes even citing the department’s investigation or media coverage as the cause of that stress.
If approved, Manney’s retirement — which would include about 75 percent of his salary, tax-free — will take precedence over his dismissal because he applied two days before he was fired.
(Annysa Johnson and Crocker Stephenson of the Journal Sentinel contributed to this report.)
©2014 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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