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Witness account of officer-involved shooting is very different from police account

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MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- A Starbucks barista is giving a very different account of the shooting in Red Arrow Park last week. Her story provides more details than the police version of events. She wrote about what happened on Wednesday, April 30th -- and it's an account Dontre Hamilton's family has already shared with friends.

The Starbucks at Red Arrow Park is moving towards business as usual.

The temporary coffee trailer used during remodeling is moving out. The servers who worked there are moving back into the business -- including one who witnessed last week's fatal officer-involved shooting.

31-year-old Dontre Hamilton was shot and killed by a Milwaukee police officer.

The barista posted her account of what happened on OccupyRiverwest.com.

On Monday, May 5th, the story was read by Nate Hamilton -- Dontre's brother.

Police say Dontre was shot after he struggled with an officer, took the officer's baton, and hit the officer in the head before the shooting.

The barista's account says she never saw Dontre Hamilton strike the officer with the baton.

It is only one witness account of several, but it reveals additional details.

The Starbucks worker writes of three encounters with police between 1:00 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Two times, employees called the police, and officers checked up on Dontre Hamilton, who was sleeping near the Red Arrow Park statue.

Law enforcement officials allowed Hamilton to sleep. The barista wrote: "It was so obvious to me that Dontre was doing nothing illegal."

Around 3:30 p.m., she says a beat cop showed up.

"I didn't see the beginning of the fight," the barista writes.

The barista says she heard shouting, saw that Hamilton had a baton -- and viewed the officer's response.

"He had his gun pointed at Dontre from about 10 feet away," the barista writes.

Nate Hamilton, Dontre's brother, says his family believes Dontre was defending himself -- and the story that was published by the barista supports that theory.

"I don't want to say what I consider police brutality. I just want to say this was a bad decision on maybe an officer's behalf," Nate Hamilton said.

Police would not comment on this story as it is part of an ongoing investigation -- but did confirm the account's author was officially questioned.

Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn said last week the officer was defending himself in a violent situation.

Dontre Hamilton's family says he was not on his medication for schizophrenia at the time of the shooting -- and that played a role in what happened.

In a press conference after the shooting, Chief Flynn said more needs to be done to help those suffering from mental illness -- and to protect officers and the general public from those with mental illness who become violent.

Chief Flynn says the system in place to help people like Dontre Hamilton, who suffer from mental illness, is failing. That’s putting both police officers and the public in danger.

“We must not lose sight of the fact that once again, a violent confrontation occurred on the street between an officer and a violent, combative, mentally ill individual,” Chief Flynn said after the shooting.

Chief Flynn said the case involving Hamilton isn't the first involving an individual with mental illness who turned violent.

Chief Flynn said every year, the Milwaukee Police Department responds to more than 7,000 calls involving mentally ill individuals. That’s an average of about 26 calls a day.

Since 2005, there have been over 50,000 emergency detentions brought by MPD to the Milwaukee County Mental Health Complex — according to Chief Flynn.

Additionally, Chief Flynn says three of the four fatal police shootings last year involved mentally ill suspects who were armed — including a mentally ill person shot and killed inside Milwaukee’s downtown Transit Center in November.

“We’re not demonizing the mentally ill. They suffer, their families suffer and it is an extraordinary social and public health problem,” Chief Flynn said.

Hamilton's family is accepting donations for his funeral. That funeral is planned for Friday, May 9th at Holy Temple First Born Methodist Baptist Church on N. 18th Street. A viewing is scheduled for 10:00 a.m., and a funeral service is scheduled for noon.

If you would like to donate, please CLICK HERE.

On Wednesday, May 7th, on the one-week anniversary of the shooting, Hamilton's family says 31 balloons will be released at Red Arrow Park at 2:00 p.m.

CLICK HERE to read the Starbucks barista's account of what happened inside Red Arrow Park via OccupyRiverwest.com.

36 comments

  • Mark G.

    What kind of “protected society” are we becoming when a trained law enforcement officer can shoot a man with a piece of hard plastic in his hands? Are you telling me that this officer had no choice but to shoot and kill this unarmed man? What happened to pepper spray and the tasers that every cop loves to use??? Chief Flynn, thank you for the cop out claiming the mentally ill needs more resources because one of your officers murdered a man on a downtown street when many other options were available. SHAME ON THE MILWAUKEE PD….ONCE AGAIN… My condolences to the family… If you are fed up with unforgivable and despicable behavior stand up and speak your mind. THIS IS AMERICA!

    • reality

      really? The guy grabbed the officers baton and BEAT HIM WITH IT. This story has a sad end, however you an NOT blame the officers.

    • B

      Mark, my friend, if you don’t have a clue what you’re talking about, don’t comment. Old batons are made of hardwood, and new expandable batons are metal. A blow to the head from either would either kill you or incapacitate you to the point where you are extremely vulnerable to further attack. Also, mentally ill people, especially those who are off their medication, are extremely unpredictable, and have been known to possess “super-human” strength when in a “fight or flight” type scenario. Pepper spray and Tasers are likely to have no effect, nor are they an accurate response to a mentally ill subject wielding a baton. If you had any police training whatsoever, you would know this. The officer is completely justified in what he did. Stop shaming the MPD and start thanking the officers who put their lives on the lines every day. It is unfortunate Hamilton got killed and I feel for his family, but the officer is not to blame.

  • Mike

    Despite what you see on tv and the movies police officers are not trained to shoot to wound. Fact: this gentleman was not on his medication and had managed to get control of the officer’s baton. As far as it just being hard plastic, have you ever been hit with one? A most unpleasant experience to be sure. Had he not disarmed the officer he would still be alive. You are taught in the academy to hit center mass and that’s exactly what this officer did. Tragic that the fellow died but he brought it on himself.

  • Willie

    Thank you Mark G. for inviting me to speak my mind. Great job judging someones actions in a split second life or death situation. You obviously have had serious training in hand to hand combat and been struck with a baton (which is steel, not plastic). Tazers have been known to fail and do often. With determination someone can easily fight through the effects of pepper spray. I would love to see you stand in a 10×10 room with an assailant only equiped with pepper spray and a tazer while he wields a baton. And btw….you commented “no other choice than to shoot and kill this unarmed man?” HE WAS ARMED WITH A BATON!

  • cathy

    Find it strange how this family claims that our society is failing the mentally ill. Why was he not on his meds and the family new this? Seems to me that the family failed this man. Why would you blame society when he is not taking perscribed meds for his illness? There is only so much y8u can do for people before they need to do for themselves.

  • nicki

    The family never said the system is failing the mentally ill Chief Flynn stated that.. It does not make it any better but if u weren’t there to see for yourself I think assuming is a bad thing to.. He should have been on his mess as the family stated because maybe it wouldn’t have happened.. But yet another man is dead in milwaukee.. Smh..it’s just sad

    • Betty

      Thanks Nicki for your compassion. I am the cousin of the deceased. It hurts that he is no longer with us, and it hurt that people are being so judgmental. All I can say is that I pray no one ever have to endure what my family is going through now. Mental illness is not an easy to live with, and death due to mental illness is extremely difficult for those who are left to grieve. Instead of judging, I ask, those of you who believe in prayer to please utilize prayer of peace, forgiveness, strength, and healing for my family.

  • michael

    It’s time to put the fear of the police back into society. At 42 years old……i still slow down when i see a squad car even if i am not speeding and stand a little straighter when an officer walks by even though im doing nothing wrong. When a cop tells you to stop…you stop; when a cop tells you to put your hands in the air…..your arms should immediately be up; but if you ever run, fight, disobey, or in this case……take away a weapon from an officer – be prepared to be fatally stopped. What kind of society have we turned into that we can criticize the officer that his weapon taken away from him by someone…..and how dare we defend this suspect (mentally ill or not) for combatively stealing an officers weapon and turning on him. What? I say as soon as the suspect reached from the officers weapon……the suspect deserved what happened……case closed.

  • Kellie

    I think everyone knew there was more to this story when they heard the officer shot up to 10 times! No questions an over reaction by this cop. I hope people come forward with the truth & aren’t intimidated or afraid to stand up for what’s right.

    • k

      You are taught in the academy to shoot to stop, if this man was still moving forward he could still do more potential damage, therefore more shots occured. I was not there and I doubt you were either. I am getting very disappointed in a society that cannot beleive that police officers can be the victims, not the agresser, but the man beating him with a metal rod has a free pass. If the “victim” was close enough to get the officers baton and beat him with it, he was close enough to get his side arm. So if the officer was killed were would your sympathy be then?

  • chantelle

    Its amazing how quick some of you who have probably never experienced mental illnes are to judge. No one wakes up one day from a life of normalsy and decides to hear voices, no one wakes up one day and says eehhh I dont think I like being mentally stable.. Schizophrenia is not something you are born with from day one. it is something that allows you to be just like everyone else, going out to parties with your siblings, having girlfriends and boyfriends and even having children, and than one day well after your teens somewhere in your early 20’s just takes over your mind. Was Dontre armed with that officers baton? YES.. But the real question is WHY??? What on earth did that officer say or do to him to get that stick taken? Dontre was sleeping peacefully not bothering anyone and very much unarmed as was described by the first two officers. What made this beat cop decide to bother him? Do the police have the right to violate your area and than blame you for the outcome? At the end of the day the scenario played out twice, once where he was left to be and once where he was killed. Clearly that officer did something wrong with either his approach or his tactics. No one deserves this and FYI I’m still waiting for pictures for the extensive wounds and damages Dontre did to that officer with that baton……

    • L

      The beginning of your comment makes it sound like you know something about mental illness/schizophrenia, but the end shows you clearly don’t. The officer didn’t necessarily do anything “wrong”. To somebody with schizophrenia, saying “hello” could be perceived as a threat. What was different about his interaction vs. the other officers? Who knows…but to somebody with schizophrenia this officer could have been a demon while the other two weren’t. I don’t know exactly what kind of schizophrenia this man had but if he suffered from paranoid delusions, he most certainly could perceive simple interactions very differently than you or I. I’m not claiming to know what happened, and I don’t know if the officer was truly threatening or not, but neither do you. So do not in one breath criticize those who judge, but in another judge a situation that you yourself don’t know or understand.

  • Crystal

    It’s crazy when something happens to a African Amercian man he got what he deserved from Trayvon Martin to Dontre Hamilton. When are people going to take responsible for their actions, wrong is wrong and right is right. The police do not always get it right period. The ball was dropped on Dontre Hamilton but it has nothing to do with his family who I know personally it’s society depiction of Mental Illness and minorities in general. It’s a shame when we live in a world when it’s a crime just being a African American man. If you don’t know the truth about mental illness, medication, health care for the low income and homeless than educate yourself before you start speaking on things you know nothing about. It’s easy to judge a life you’ve never lived.

    • Crystal

      Error: After I read it back I wanted to make sure My statement was clear so there’s no confusion. It’s crazy when people think that when something happens to a African American man they feel like they got what they deserved. Just by some of the comments being left on the internet overall regarding this matter. Including stating that he was a suspect instead of a victim, come on really. What is this world coming to…We all should have fear because it could have been anyone of us or our family member.

  • Don

    I disregarded the barista’s account of the incident after the article stated she posted it on the occupy riverwest website….

    • How 'Bout That Occupy Movement, Eh?

      Hahaha, I thought the same thing (to an extent). It’s definitely a detractor that she posted it there. It just screams, “I’M A BLEEDING HEART LIBERAL WHO AUTOMATICALLY HATES AUTHORITY!”, so of course she’s going to go against the officer.

  • Lynn Derrick

    I’m wondering if the man was doing nothing wrong as the writer states why then did they call the police several times in the day? Why not just leave him alone….then none of this would have happened!

  • kbee junior

    As a person who is mentally ill just not the same as this person has. His family didnt know where he was im sure or he would have his meds and a place to sleep. This officer must have overheard on his radio about this guy previously so not sure why he addressed this sleeping guy for if he knew the other officers had took care of this guy earlier in the day. How does an officer also in a standing position allow this guy to get anything off of him. It sounds like NOBODY has really seen how the beginning of the fight started so officers story is obviously the full truth. Problem is sometimes cops are just punks and think their badge means they can treat you how they want and talk to you in a demeaning manner. Sorry there are more bad cops nthan good these days just like teachers in our schools. No futures of good fortune for our kids.

  • bderk.

    Just so sad, most people don’t understand people with mental illness.These are my consumers I see everyday.. Just remember they have rights too. whether they take medication or not is up to them. We can only do so much. We all need to reach out and help instead of judging them. I pray for the family as much as the police officer. I am not a fan of Milwaukee police, but we do have some good officer’s who are attempting to reach out to our homeless and the people with mental health issues.

    Sending prayers the family and the officer!

  • Chantelisha

    First OFF IF Y’ALL READ IT SAYS WITNESS DIDN’T SEE THE MAN HIT HIM AT ALL MEANING THE OFFICER MADE THAT UP NO LIE HE COULD HAVE TASED HIM ANYTHING HE WANTED TO KILL ITS NOT RIGHT TO TAKE NOBODY LIFE HE WAS MENTALLY ILL

    • J

      You’re an idiot. Did you read the article? It says she didn’t see the beginning of the fight but did hear all the shouting and saw the suspect with the officers baton. Do you really think the officer just wanted to kill the suspect? I’m tired of the excuse that he was mentally ill. Mentally ill people are often times more unpredictable and dangerous than those who aren’t. His family knew he has been off his meds for a couple of months yet did nothing to get him help. Time for the family to step up and take some responsibility. All it would have taken was a phone call to the police and they could have done an emergency detention on him which forces him to get help.

      • KSM

        Did I miss it in the article where it said “the family elected to do nothing about him not taking his medicine and chose to not get him help?”

        That it pure ignorance. He is not a child. As an adult he has the right to refuse medication and medical treatment. If he is not suicidal or homicidal then there is no grounds for him to be held via court order in an institution. Secondly, where do you suppose these homeless individuals get their meds from? They certainly can’t just stop into Walgreens and pick them up. They need to make an appointment at County which is normally 3 months out, then remember the time and date, take a bus (find money for a ticket there), wait around for the appointment, get medication and then repeat the same thing in three months in order to get refills. The only place they can get free refills is at County. No where else.

        If you have a mental illness and substance abuse issues keep appointments at county is most likely one of the last things on your list to accomplish in a day.

        Family has no say in whether an adult gets treatment or takes meds or does anything.

      • Laura Shird-Burbie

        “The family neglected to get him help”? And “they should take some responsibility”? If this man is over 18 (which I assume he was), there is nothing that they can do. Mentally ill or not, they can’t shove pills down his throat against his will and they cannot have him committed against his will. Maybe learn some facts before you post. It is obvious that you have no idea what you are talking about.

  • Cynthia Kurutz

    If you don’t understand stand police procedure take a class, the officer defended himself,he was threatened.

  • yoyo

    What is really sad is that we live in a society where a cops word is considered golden. Cops are people too and I don’t understand why everyone always jumps to their defense. I have had contact with cops who did not want to be involved with helping out at all. Especially if the situation is not deadly. Fact is, police brutality, like everything else in this country is absolutely ridiculous.

  • Cassie

    No injuries with a baton and I’m standing 10 feet away with 13+ years of experience, come on. Dontre like so many other people who live with mental illness is a tragedy to our terrible mental health and police departments. We are the most segregated city in the nation and get killed for taking a nap after not being able to sleep for several days. Being a low income individual and being denied service in a mental health facility and then your insurance falling through yet again is why dontre is not here. Had the resources been available or this 13+ year trained police officer had an ounce of sense this would have never happened. So tired of this law system brushing cases under the rug because of police authority. What justice will be served to this family? Nothing because they do not have the funds to get a good lawyer to get some type of compensation for sacrificing their family member to a failed system. I pray this family gets some type of closure and at least an apology which they still have not received any contact from the mpd and the funeral is on Friday.

  • Russ

    The police – and other agencies which should not even have guns – are out of control and turning this country into a police state.

    Brought to you by the “fundamentally restructured” Obama America.

  • jnutsun@gmail.com

    Some cops are trouble makers that think they ARE THE LAW…..the guy was sleeping, hello.

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