After six months of inaction that inspired demonstrations and widened the wedge between Milwaukee police and the city’s black citizens, Police Chief Edward Flynn fired an officer who killed a mentally ill man in downtown’s Red Arrow Park.
Flynn said Officer Christopher Manney, 38, instigated a fight with Dontre Hamilton, 31, before firing 14 shots into the unarmed man’s body. Activists have compared the shooting with the slaying of Michael Brown, an unarmed, black 18-year-old gunned down by an officer in Ferguson, Missouri.
Hamilton was sleeping in a downtown park when Manney responded to a call for a welfare check and began a patdown. Flynn said Hamilton resisted and the two exchanged punches and strikes before Hamilton hit Manney on the neck with Manney’s baton. Manney then shot Hamilton.
Flynn said that while Manney correctly identified Hamilton as someone who was emotionally disturbed, he ignored his training and police policy and treated him as a criminal.
“You don’t go hands-on and start frisking somebody only because they appear to be mentally ill,” Flynn said during a news conference announcing the firing.
Hamilton’s family has said he was diagnosed with schizophrenia but was not violent, and they doubt he struck Manney. They called Wednesday for police to release photographs documenting the officer’s injuries. They also said that while the firing was “a victory,” they would continue to lead and participate in marches in an effort to persuade the district attorney to bring criminal charges.
“Yes, he was fired, but he took a man’s life,” Hamilton’s mother, Maria, said during a separate news conference.
His brother, Nate Hamilton, said the family remains hurt and their grief would not ease until they feel justice is done.
“Dontre did not attack this man, he did not have to shoot Dontre at all,” the brother said.
The Wisconsin Division of Criminal Investigation investigated Hamilton’s death under a state law that requires an outside investigator to review all officer-involved deaths. The Milwaukee County district attorney’s office has asked an unnamed investigator to do a second review, and an attorney for Hamilton’s family said he was told the FBI is looking into it as well.
Flynn said his decision was based on an internal affairs investigation. He sidestepped questions about whether Manney should face criminal charges. He said he found “errors of judgment, but no malice” in Manney’s handling of the confrontation.
“There’s got to be a way for us to hold ourselves accountable absent putting cops in jail for making mistakes,” he said.
About 400 officers, or less than one-fourth of the department, have received the full, recommended 40 hours of Crisis Intervention Team training considered the model for dealing with people who are emotionally distressed. Flynn said that starting next year, all officers will receive at least 16 hours of training.
The Milwaukee Police Association condemned the firing.
“The decision to terminate this officer is cowardice and certainly unfounded and unsupported by fact,” President Mike Crivello said in a statement.
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