In response the Wisconsin Department of Justice declaring it will not release video footage of the officer-involved fatal shooting in Milwaukee, the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin again called for transparency in the investigation of the underlying incident. ACLU executive director Chris Ahmuty wrote the following letter to Attorney General Brad Schimel:
Dear Attorney General Schimel,
It is time for you and your agency to give the public more information about your investigation into the officer-involved fatal shooting of Mr. Sylville Smith on August 13, 2016 in Milwaukee’s Sherman Park neighborhood.
In an August 14, 2016 news release you stated “The Wisconsin Department of Justice Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI), at the request of the Milwaukee Police Department, is leading the investigation of yesterday’s officer involved death. DOJ will work expeditiously to ensure a thorough and transparent gathering of the facts.” According to an August 16, 2016 story in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, your spokesperson said, “In recognition of the violence that has affected Milwaukee residents for the last 48 hours, DOJ is working expeditiously, and within the parameters of the law, to provide the community a transparent view of the events that took place on August 13 in a timely manner. However, we are not prepared to release any of the video evidence at this time.”
To date you have promised transparency, but provided little information on your investigation to the community and Mr. Smith’s grieving family and friends, who seek understanding of the deadly incident that transpired on August 13.
In your news release and your spokesperson’s statement as reported in the media, you don’t even mention Sylville Smith’s name. It is important for you to recognize that a Milwaukee police officer has killed a specific person, with family, friends and neighbors.
You have said that you will not “release any of the video evidence at this time.” Failure to timely release video of similar incidents has been a source of unrest in Chicago, leading officials there to adopt a policy of prompt release of video. Note that Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn has already expressed conclusions drawn from a video the public has not been allowed to see.
You have remained silent regarding a host of other questions that would help the public ascertain whether your agency is conducting “a thorough and transparent gathering of facts.” We ask that you please answer the following questions about your investigation:
- Are any of the investigators/analysts assigned to this case former Milwaukee Police Department employees?
- Has DCI interviewed the officer(s) who encountered Mr. Smith on August 13? If so, when were the officers interviewed?
- Has DCI or MPD interviewed neighbors/witnesses?
- Who gets access to Smith’s companion (Is he in custody? Does he have an attorney?)
- Does DCI have the body worn camera(s) (BWC)? Does it have access to evidence.com?
- Did the officer or other witnesses review the BWC or dash cam video before your agents interviewed them?
- Was the officer given a blood test?
- What was the basis for the stop? Are there radio communications that would reflect the basis for the stop?
- Is there audio from the dash cam or from nearby Shotspotter microphones?
- When will the medical examiner issue a report?
Nearly all of these questions are procedural and address aspects of your gathering of facts. None call for details regarding the evidence, much less conclusions.
Please answer these questions. If you refuse to answer any of these questions, please let me know your justification for refusing at this time.
Thank you. I hope to hear from you shortly.