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Justice Department will review death of Wisconsin teen

The U.S. Justice Department plans to review the death of a 16-year-old who was restrained at a Milwaukee-area convenience store but says his family has not provided sufficient evidence so far of a civil rights violation.

U.S. Attorney James Santelle said in a statement over the weekend that his office will look into Corey Stingley’s death to determine if an “investigation is warranted, without any present commitment to or plan for prosecution."

Milwaukee District Attorney John Chisholm decided not to charge three white men in the black teenager’s death. He said earlier this month there wasn’t sufficient evidence to prove they intended to kill Stingley or knew their actions could lead to death.

Stingley died Dec. 29, 2012, two weeks after the three customers tackled him and held him down at a West Allis convenience store where he had been suspected of shoplifting alcoholic beverages. The youth was unconscious when police arrived.

Chisholm’s decision not to prosecute the three sparked a rally outside his office last week. About 150 people protested, some carrying signs reading “Justice for Corey Stingley” and “Bring his racist killers to trial.”

Santelle’s statement said Craig Stingley, the youth’s father, initially requested federal involvement in September. The department wrote back in December that the information Stingley had provided was “insufficient for us to determine the existence of possible federal criminal civil rights violations” and requested additional information from the father.

Stingley said he has been working to gather materials, such as video from the West Allis Police Department and transcripts from a hearing.

“I’m in the process of doing my part, which is to get them the information they requested,” he said.

The Milwaukee County medical examiner ruled Corey Stingley’s death a homicide, which, by that office’s definition, means death at the hands of another. The criminal charge of homicide carries a different standard that takes into account intent and risk of harm. The medical examiner’s report said the youth died of brain damage caused by lack of oxygen, which it said had been preceded by asphyxia, physical restraint and a violent struggle with individuals.

On Jan. 16, the NAACP Milwaukee Branch released the following statement on the investigation into the teen's death:

The NAACP Milwaukee Branch is greatly troubled by the tragic circumstances surrounding the death of Corey Stingley. While no one condones the kind of wrongdoing that he was alleged to have been engaged in, the actions of the three men who restrained Mr. Stingley resulting in his death, should be thoroughly examined. We grieve for and with his family and fully support their efforts seeking a civil or federal review of the circumstances that resulted in the most fundamental violation of civil rights – the loss of life. 

When a person loses his life at the hands of others, it would seem that a “chargeable” offence has occurred. If the District Attorney has determined that the traditional charge of manslaughter is not warranted under the circumstances, we believe that some other charge, under the facts as we understand them might nonetheless be appropriate. The family (and community) deserves to be satisfied that the investigation gave full consideration not only to the question of intent, but also to issues of criminal negligence and reckless disregard for life. 

The NAACP has had a long history of opposing vigilantism – taking the law into one’s own hands, for obvious reasons. Former National NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Jealous recently cautioned (in the aftermath of the Trayvon Martin death) how Stand Your Ground and other similar laws license vigilantism, adding that this should be a matter of grave concern to every enlightened citizen. It is one thing to act as a “Good Samaritan.” It is another to take a life. The stand that should be taken should be one of alerting the community that vigilantism can be a slippery slope and that vigilante justice must never be applauded or condoned. 

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