Former Milwaukee Police Officer Dominque Heaggan-Brown heard the words “not guilty” in court on Wednesday as did the family of Sylville Smith. A jury decided the former officer should not be criminally responsible for fatally shooting of Smith last summer, a killing that sparked two nights of violence in the Sherman Park neighborhood. The jury deliberated for ten hours over two days, and after Judge Jeffrey Conen announced the verdict, Smith's family members sobbed.
Family and friends then stormed out of the courtroom and onto the courthouse lawn. Smith’s father Patrick, says there is no justice in the death of his son.
“They are trained to kill and not to protect and serve us. We’re not animals. Every time they take a shot, it’s to kill you because a dead man can’t talk, so they can’t explain what really happened."
Smith’s family then announced it has filed a civil lawsuit against Heaggan-Brown and the city. Another person outside the courthouse was Milwaukee Police Union President Mike Crivello. He says he’s relieved by the outcome.
“We are absolutely grateful to a mindful jury that took time to deliberate, look at the evidence and realize that what took place was a necessity born of the actions of a criminal that day,” Crivello says.
The trial centered on body camera footage from Heaggan-Brown; it captured events as he chased after Smith following a traffic stop. Heaggan-Brown fired one shot at Smith’s arm while he was holding a gun, then Smith threw the weapon over a fence.
Prosecutors argued he was defenseless when the officer fired a second shot, killing the 23-year-old. The defense insisted Heaggan-Brown feared for his life and had to make a snap decision. District Attorney John Chisholm says he has no regrets about prosecuting the case.
“In this unique set of circumstances, you had a legitimate use of force on the first encounter, when the officer reasonably thought that he was presented with the threat of death or great bodily harm. A short time later, those facts and those circumstances changed and it was certainly the state’s position that he should have been aware of that and that he should not have used lethal force on that second shot,” Chisholm says.
Chisholm says while he’s disappointed in the outcome, he respects the jury’s decision. The Milwaukee Police Department fired Heaggan-Brown from the force two months following the shooting, after he was charged with sexual assault, in an unrelated case.