DA Charges Former Milwaukee Police Officer with Homicide in Sylville Smith's Death

Dec 16, 2016

Dominique Heaggan-Brown has been charged with first-degree reckless homicide in the death of Sylville Smith.

The former Milwaukee police officer is accused of pursuing  Smith after a traffic stop in the Sherman Park neighborhood in August. Heaggan-Brown is African American, as was Smith.

If convicted, the former officer could face up to 60 years imprisonment.

Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm's decision to charge Heaggan-Brown was made public in court documents on Thursday.

According to the criminal complaint, a review of body camera footage shows Smith fleeing from a car and running into a yard, while carrying a semi-automatic handgun. The complaint says as Heaggan-Brown and another officer pursued Smith on foot, Smith slipped to the ground, then rose to his feet with the gun in his hand. At that time, Smith reportedly turned his head and upper body toward the officers, raised the gun upward, and threw it over a fence.

The criminal complaint says Heaggan-Brown fired, as Smith was raising the gun. Smith fell on his back "with his legs and arms going up towards his head in what appears to be a half backwards roll." Heaggan-Brown then shot Smith a second time, as Smith's hands were near his head. The criminal complaint says Smith was unarmed.

The shooting led to two nights of protests, which sometimes were destructive or turned violent, in the Sherman Park neighborhood.

Heaggan-Brown has since been fired from the Milwaukee Police Department, over unrelated allegations of sexual assault. He is in jail, pending developments in those cases.

The family of Sylville Smith released a statement in response to the charges:

We appreciate that the District Attorney has shown independence and sound judgment in prosecuting the officer who shot and killed Sylville. We also appreciate that this is but the first step in holding that officer accountable, but a necessary step in bringing some measure of justice.

We always believed that Sylville should be alive today, and that this rogue officer was completely wrong. Though the decision to prosecute cannot bring back Sylville, justice is needed for our family as we continue to move through deep grief and seek justice for his wrongful death.

Meanwhile, Heaggan-Brown's attorney says the case isn't over. He says he plans to mount a "vigorous" defense. The attorney says the criminal complaint raises issues, although he didn't go into detail.

Edward Flynn, Milwaukee's police chief, says it still appears to him that Heaggan-Brown was justified in shooting Smith. So, Flynn says he assumes the DA has additional evidence that prosecutors haven't released.

Since the shooting, a number of people have urged the district attorney to release the body camera footage. On Thursday, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett called for prosecutors to make the footage public. It's not clear whether that will happen.