The family of a man who died in Milwaukee police custody five years ago filed a federal civil rights lawsuit Wednesday against the city and the officers involved.
Derek Williams died July 6, 2011, after struggling to breathe while handcuffed in the back seat of a squad car. The 22-year-old Williams, a robbery suspect, can be seen in squad car video pleading for medical help.
Samster, Konkel & Safran is representing Williams' estate and his three children, ages 5, 6 and 7. The law firm said in a Wednesday news release that Williams' death was a "direct consequence" of the police department's lack of policy on how to deal with a person in custody who is in physical distress.
The Milwaukee County district attorney, police department and a special prosecutor have cleared the officers involved of any wrongdoing.
“It is unconscionable that no Milwaukee Police Department officers have been held responsible for Mr. Williams' death. We are committed to obtaining some modicum of justice for Mr. Williams' children and again shining a light on the Milwaukee Police Department,” Jonathan Safran, an attorney for the family, said at a news conference.
Fox6 News reports that Milwaukee police officials have declined to comment because the lawsuit is pending.
During Williams' arrest, Officer Richard Ticcioni put his knee across Williams' back. That was when Williams said for the first time that he couldn't breathe, according to inquest testimony from Officer Craig Thimm. He was also named in the lawsuit, which claims police violated Williams' civil rights.
Officers Jeffrey Cline and Jason Bleichwehl each spent time in the squad car's front seat as Williams struggled to breathe for nearly eight minutes, the video shows. When Williams said he couldn't breathe, Cline responded: “You're breathing just fine.”
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that the police department's policy at the time stated: “Members shall remain cognizant of any changes in the condition of an arrestee that would require medical treatment. If medical treatment becomes necessary, members shall immediately request medical assistance by telephone or radio.”
After Williams' death, Police Chief Edward Flynn issued an internal memo explaining medical distress and directing officers to call paramedics if a prisoner has trouble breathing or is in pain.