A Milwaukee jury has acquitted a former police officer of first-degree reckless homicide in the shooting of a black man last August, which led to two nights of rioting in the city.
Dominique Heaggan-Brown, who is also black, shot 23-year-old Sylville Smith after a brief chase that was captured on a police body camera.
After the verdict, the Smith family’s attorney David Owens said they had filed a lawsuit against Heaggan-Brown and the U.S. City of Milwaukee.
The suit claims that the city kept the former officer at work despite a “pervasive pattern of excessive force and misconduct.”
Heaggan-Brown was fired from the police force in October after being charged with sexual assault in an unrelated case.
Court records also showed that he was charged with having sex with prostitutes and sexually assaulting another person between December 2015 and July 2016.
“This guy is somebody we now know was engaged in all sorts of criminal conduct, (he) shouldn’t have been there,” Owens said.
“The department knew about it, but they don’t care because they defend officers with impunity and that is what allows them to kill and shoot first and ask questions later.”
Heaggan-Brown’s attorney Jonathan Smith, said his client did what he was trained to do and was “gratified” over the acquittal.
“Obviously, everyone recognizes there was a loss of life, and I don’t think any officer would want to be put in that situation and to have to make those decisions that he did, but those decisions were made, and I think the jury properly evaluated them,” Smith said, according to WISN-TV.
Body-camera video showed Heaggan-Brown shot Smith once in the arm as he appeared to be throwing the gun over a fence.
He shot a second bullet into Smith’s chest 1.69 seconds later. Smith was on the ground when he received the fatal shot.
The prosecutor argued that Smith was defenseless at the time of the second fatal shot as he had thrown the gun over the fence.
Defense attorneys argued Heaggan-Brown had to act quickly to defend his life and that of another officer.
Smith’s father Patrick Smith said there is no justice in the death of his son.
“Why are they trained to kill when they’re supposed to protect and serve us?” Patrick Smith said. “There is no justice here.”
Heaggan-Brown’s acquittal came less than a week after a Minnesota police officer was found not guilty of shooting a black motorist in a suburb of St. Paul.
Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm said he was disappointed in the verdict, but he respects the jury decision.
“We prosecuted a strong case. It’s a decision the community had to make,” Chisholm said.
After Smith’s death, demonstrators assembled near the site of the shooting in Sherman Park. The following two nights of riots left businesses burned, police cars damaged and officers injured.
Sylville Smith’s sister Sherelle Smith made a plea for peace outside the Milwaukee County Courthouse on Wednesday.
“Do something different in the community, try as hard as you can to be peaceful and form unity with each other… black or white,” Sherelle Smith said. “Because we all bleed the same. We all hurt the same.”
Watch body cam footage of the shooting death of Sylville Smith:
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