City of Milwaukee Reaches $2.3 Million Settlement with Dontre Hamilton's Family

May 31, 2017

Update, May 31, 2017:

The Milwaukee Common Council on Wednesday unanimously approved a $2.3 million settlement with family of Dontre Hamilton, the black man a white police officer fatally shot in 2014, in Red Arrow Park downtown. 

Hamilton was mentally ill and had been sleeping in the park when officer Christopher Manney initiated a pat down, to check for weapons. It prompted Hamilton to begin fighting, and Manney ultimately shot Hamilton 14 times, killing him. The MPD later fired Manney for not following protocol when engaging a person with mental illness.

Hamilton's family sued the city, while also becoming active locally and nationally in lobbying for improved police-community relations.

Family members have decided that a good share of the settlement will be placed in a fund for Hamilton's son, for his use, after he reaches adulthood.

Mayor Barrett must still sign the settlement.

Original story:

The Dontre Hamilton case is back in the news, even though it's been three years since he passed away. Common Council members are considering a settlement with Hamilton's family. Hamilton was the mentally ill man shot by a Milwaukee police officer after a struggle in Red Arrow Park.

Yet Hamilton’s family members have also become outspoken in matters related to police use of force. For instance, Dontre's mother Maria has organized marches seeking answers for families such as hers, who have lost loved ones in police shootings.

Also at the top of the family’s list, according to its attorney Jonathan Safran, has been improving police relations with people like Dontre, who suffer from mental illness. The police department fired the officer involved, Christopher Manney, for not following proper procedures. The pat down he initiated led to the struggle with Hamilton and the fatal shooting.

"The family and we as their attorneys certainly wanted to make sure that one of the elements of this case was the fact that the officer involved, Christopher Manney, had not received training in what's called CIT or Critical Incident Team training," Safran says.

Safran says Manney's interaction with Dontre Hamilton could have turned out differently, had Manney undergone CIT training.

"That is the type of training that has been identified and is used around the country to make sure that officers have the ability to comprehend and determine if individuals might be suffering from a mental illness or are in a mental health crisis," Safran says.

Today, the MPD trains all of its officers in CIT for 40 hours. The training gets a nod of approval from Laura Usher of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

"Officers who go through CIT training are more likely to use less force, are more likely to take someone to the hospital for care, rather than to jail. There's research that shows that officers that go through CIT training are less likely to be injured in these interactions with people in crisis," Usher says.

Now, according to attorney Jonathan Safran, the Milwaukee Police Department is the largest in the country to have all its officers receive the training. Yet Safran says Hamilton's family still wants to see the department make additional changes. For instance, the family backs the Problem Oriented Policing model, which seeks to find solutions to issues that contribute to criminal activity.