MILWAUKEE – Family members of a Milwaukee man a city police officer shot and killed say they aren’t giving up hope that the officer will be charged.
Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm announced Monday that former Officer Christopher Manney, who is white, acted in self-defence when he shot Donte Hamilton, who is black, 14 times in April. But later in the day, U.S. Attorney James Santelle announced that the Department of Justice, his office and the FBI will review whether Manney violated federal civil rights laws.
Dontre Hamilton’s brother, Nate Hamilton, said the family hopes federal investigators can take a more objective look at the case than Milwaukee authorities and weigh all the evidence. The state Division of Criminal Investigation led the review of the case, but Nate Hamilton said the family thinks that agency has worked too closely with Milwaukee police in the past to be impartial.
“I think we’ll get a better look. I want to be confident in it, but, right now, I cannot put my trust in the system,” he said.
Manney’s attorney didn’t return a message seeking comment about the federal review.
Manney is at least the third white police officer across the country to avoid charges in the past month after a confrontation that led to a black man’s death. He shot Hamilton, 31, in April after responding to a call of a man sleeping in a downtown park. Hamilton’s family said Hamilton suffered from schizophrenia and had recently stopped taking his medication. Manney said Hamilton resisted when he tried to frisk him. The two exchanged punches before Hamilton got hold of Manney’s baton and hit him on the neck, the former officer has said.
Several witnesses told police they saw Hamilton holding Manney’s baton aggressively before Manney shot him, according to Chisholm’s report. Police said they have no video of the incident, but Chisholm’s report said Manney suffered minor injuries, including a bite to his right thumb, a neck strain and a neck contusion. He was treated for post-concussion syndromes, a mild traumatic brain injury and had physical therapy for bicep and rotator cuff injuries.
Police Chief Edward Flynn fired Manney in October, saying the officer correctly identified Hamilton as mentally ill but ignored department policy and treated him as a criminal by frisking him. Manney is appealing. Tension continued to mount ahead of Chisholm’s decision, though, fueled by angry reaction to police killings of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in New York City.
Chisholm said his decision not to press charges took so long largely because he chose to consult with use-of-force experts, who ultimately concluded Manney’s conduct was justified. One expert, Emanuel Kapelsohn of the Peregrine Corp., said in a report Chisholm said he received last week that all the shots were fired in 3 or 4 seconds and there was no evidence that Manney continued firing after Hamilton hit the ground.
Chisholm told reporters during a news conference his job wasn’t to evaluate whether Manney adhered to policy but whether he applied the correct amount of force for the situation. He said witnesses reported Manney gave Hamilton verbal commands to stop.
“On a human level, of course, it’s tragic,” Chisholm said. “(But) our job is not to tell people necessarily what they want to hear.”
At a news conference after Chishom’s announcement, the Hamilton family urged protesters to remain peaceful, but Nate Hamilton spoke bitterly, saying the family had “cried too long” and, “We don’t have to be the voice of reason.”
“We need to stop the violence in our communities so we can get rid of these pigs that kill us,” he said to applause. “Because that’s what they are. They feed, they feed off of us. And we can’t let them do that no more.”
His remarks came just two days after two New York City police officers were killed in an ambush. Police said that attack was carried out by a man who posted online about putting “wings on pigs.”
Flynn said he was disturbed by Hamilton’s choice of words. Hamilton family attorney Jon Safran later said Nate Hamilton doesn’t condone “any type of violence” and the family was dealing with “great anxiety and frustration.”
Later, Nate Hamilton led a crowd of protesters through Milwaukee’s streets. Chanting, “Arrest the police,” and, “Whose streets? Our streets,” the group brought traffic to a standstill at intersections, prompting one motorist to shout, “Get back to work!” at the crowd. The march ended by mid-afternoon without incident.
Nate Hamilton gathered more protesters at the park Monday evening, imploring each protester to return to the park Tuesday afternoon with two more people to make their “biggest statement ever.”