MILWAUKEE — Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm and Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn are seeking an independent prosecutor to handle an inquest into the death of 22-year-old Derek Williams.
The revisiting of this case comes amidst intense pressure from lawyers and the media, along with new information and public outrage.
In July 2011, Milwaukee police say they chased Williams, who was wearing a mask, near Center and Holton. The officers took him into custody and placed him inside their squad car. That’s when police say Williams passed out in the back seat, and was not breathing.
Dashcam video shows Williams apparently struggling to breathe while under arrest for robbery. Not long after this, Williams was pronounced dead. Officers attempted to revive Williams, but were unsuccessful.
The Milwaukee County Medical Examiner initially ruled Williams’ death was caused by Sickle Cell trait. However, the Medical Examiner recently reclassified Williams’ death as a homicide, meaning Williams’ death was caused by another person — not necessarily that there was criminal wrongdoing.
The officers that took part in the arrest have not been charged in connection with the death.
The homicide classification caused Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and several Milwaukee aldermen to call for further investigation into this incident.
In a news conference late on Monday, September 24th D.A. Chisholm said he and Chief Flynn will make all appropriate resources available for the inquest. The two have also consulted with U.S. Attorney James Santelle on the matter. Chisholm says any time there’s new information on a case, it is his obligation to revisit the case in a public and transparent manner.
Chief Flynn endorsed the decision by D.A. Chisholm. He says the independent prosecutor will allow a public airing of the facts in the case. Flynn pledged complete cooperation with the inquest.
Chief Flynn also pointed out that since the Williams case first came to light more than a year ago, MPD has convened a critical incident review board. It is not an investigatory body; rather a team of people who critically evaluate incidents and make recommendations in department policy. Some of that has already been used in training recruits for MPD.
“It’s clear from (the dashcam) video we needed to review our training protocol and review our protocol for addressing handcuffed prisoners, and that is what we’ve undertaken to do. At the very least, we’ve identified a significant training gap that needed to be remedied,” Chief Flynn said.
Chief Flynn says the officers involved have been taken off their patrol assignments while the investigation is ongoing.
The aldermen said in a statement: “…we believe that a U.S. Attorney’s investigation will provide “fresh eyes” and the fresh perspective that is needed to look into this troubling case…The video was enough for us and thousands of reasonable community members to question the handling of Mr. Williams and police processes in general…We believe accountability to the public by police and investigative agencies is needed, and it is our hope that an investigation by the U.S. Attorney will be a step toward more accountability and greater transparency in this case.”
Milwaukee’s Fire and Police Commission have said they’ll also open a review of the Williams’ case. Mike Tobin, the commission’s director says the commission examined the dashcam video and other evidence last year before ruling officers did nothing wrong.
Monitor FOX6 News and FOX6Now.com for updates on this developing story.