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Watch: Jurors find Dominique Heaggan-Brown not guilty in shooting death of Sylville Smith

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MILWAUKEE -- Dominique Heaggan-Brown, the former Milwaukee police officer who fatally shot Sylville Smith during an August 2016 foot chase, was found not guilty Wednesday, June 21st. Members of Smith's family could be heard crying in the courtroom as the verdict was read. The shooting death sparked days of unrest in Milwaukee.

Judge Jeffrey Conen had instructed the jury of nine women and three men to consider lesser charges in the reckless homicide trial but Heaggan-Brown was cleared of all counts.

Attorneys for Heaggan-Brown said the officer always believed he was justified in using deadly force. The attorney for the Smith family disagrees.

"Obviously, he's very pleased. He believed all along that he was justified in what he did. It wasn't a situation he asked to be put in," Jonathan Smith, Heaggan-Brown's attorney said.

This case marked the first time since the late 70s a Milwaukee police officer was charged with homicide for an on-duty shooting. Additionally, this was the first sequestered jury in more than 20 years.

WATCH: Verdict handed down for Dominique Heaggan-Brown:

WATCH: Prosecutor John Chisholm reacts to not guilty verdict:

WATCH: Attorneys for Dominique Heaggan-Brown react to not guilty verdict:

Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn released the below statement after the verdict:

“The jury’s verdict was based on the objective evidence before it.  A year ago I told the public I’d seen nothing in the video that was a violation of the law or policy.  The jury saw the same evidence and came to the same conclusion.”  

WATCH: Family of Sylville Smith reacts to not guilty verdict:

WATCH: Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett reacts to not guilty verdict:

WATCH: Milwaukee Police Association President Mike Crivello reacts to not guilty verdict:

The former officer still faces charges in an unrelated sexual assault investigation. He has been fired from the police department.

In the separate case, a man told investigators that Heaggan-Brown sexually assaulted him while off duty two days after the shooting death of Smith.

The alleged sexual assault occurred on the morning of August 15th after a night of heavy drinking at a bar where the two men "sat and watched television as coverage of the Sherman Park protests [over Smith's death] aired," the criminal complaint said.

He has a jury trial set to begin in August in that case.

Dominique Heaggan-Brown, Sylville Smith

Outside court Wednesday, one of Smith's sisters called for peace and his father, Patrick, called the verdict "disrespectful."

"Why are they trained to kill when they supposed to protect and serve us?" Patrick Smith said of police officers. "There is no justice here. I want the community to calm down and come together."

Smith's sister Sherelle had a message for young people: "Don't give them a reason to take your life. Do something different in the community, try as hard as you can to be peaceful."

Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm said he respected the jury's decision.

"In this set of circumstances, you had a legitimate use of force on the first encounter when the officer reasonably thought he was presented with a threat of death or great bodily harm. A short time later, those facts and those circumstances changed. We pursued it aggressively and we presented a strong case. This is just an issue that this community had to decide. They made that decision," Chisholm said.

The defense argued those facts changed in just 1.69 seconds -- not enough time for the officer to know Smith was no longer a threat.

WATCH: Body camera video from the perspective of Dominique Heaggan-Brown: ***WARNING: This video is not appropriate for all audiences. Viewer discretion is advised.***

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"We're talking about 12 seconds from the time that he left the vehicle through the second shot and there was a lot of decision-making going on, rapidly-evolving events, split-second decision making," Jonathan Smith said.

Chisholm said his decision to charge Heaggan-Brown was in no way political.

"If you don't charge, there are gonna be a large number of people unhappy with that decision. If you do charge, there are gonna be a segment of people unhappy," Chisholm said.

Heaggan-Brown's attorneys said they're mindful of the violent unrest that stemmed from Sylville Smith's death, adding, because of that, the not guilty verdict is nothing to celebrate.

"I think we must be mindful that a young man lost his life and that has impacted the community enormously," Steve Kohn said.

Dominique Heaggan-Brown body camera video

The verdict comes at a time of increasingly strained relations between law enforcement officers and the communities they serve.

Heaggan-Brown was the third US law enforcement officer to be tried for a shooting in the last week. Convictions are rare.

On Friday, June 16th, Minnesota police Officer Jeronimo Yanez was acquitted of one count of second-degree manslaughter and two counts of intentional discharge of a firearm that endangers safety for the fatal shooting of Philando Castile during a traffic stop last year.

In Cincinnati, a jury began deliberations Monday, June 19th in the retrial of former University of Cincinnati police Officer Ray Tensing in the fatal shooting of a motorist during a July 2015 traffic stop.

"The community relies on, depends and respects their law enforcement partners," Chisholm said. "At the same time, they understand that this tremendous amount of discretionary power is given to police officers -- the power over life and death in certain circumstances -- and they want that to be accountable. But when they look at it closely they're looking at a circumstance which was fairly unique. You can't compare this to St. Paul. You can't compare it to Ferguson."

Dominique Heaggan-Brown

The prosecutor argued that Heaggan-Brown fatally shot Smith as the suspect attempted to surrender. But the former officer's attorney countered that his client made a split-second decision to protect his life and that of another officer.

Dominique Heaggan-Brown body camera video

Dominique Heaggan-Brown body camera video

The jury began deliberations on Tuesday, less than a year after the shooting in northwest Milwaukee's Sherman Park neighborhood.

Heaggan-Brown, 25, faced 60 years in prison.

Body-camera video from another officer -- played for the jury last week -- showed that Heaggan-Brown shot a second bullet into Smith's chest after the suspect hurled his weapon over a fence and had his hands near his head. Smith was on the ground when he received the fatal shot.

The jury heard closing arguments and deliberated about five hours Tuesday.

Robert Willis

The defense rested Monday after calling its lone witness, Robert Willis, an expert in police use of force.

Willis testified that Heaggan-Brown acted in "accordance with his training.

His testimony centered on the 1.69 seconds separating the two shots. He testified the officer's decision to fire again was made before he even pulled the trigger. The second shot was justified, Willis told the jury, because officers are trained to assume a suspect may have more than one weapon.

Heaggan-Brown experienced the encounter in "real time," not in frame-by-frame motion as it was shown to the jury, Willis said.

"So when we see the trigger being pulled, we have to not consider that the moment of decision," he said. "It's not. We have to go back -- and I can't tell exactly how many frames but we have to go back two-tenths or three-tenths of a second -- we have to go back several frames ... to delve into the decision-making process that goes into firing this shot."

Willis told the jury that Heaggan-Brown justifiably responded to a "deadly threat."

Last week, members of Sylville Smith's family gasped as body camera footage of the August 13th foot chase was played in court.

The reaction to the video, including sobs from Smith's family, caused the judge to clear the courtroom. The defense attorney called for a mistrial, saying the family's response could influence the jury. Conen denied the request.

Officer fired over a different investigation

The shooting sparked days of unrest in the Sherman Park section of Milwaukee, a city long torn by racial tensions.

Prosecutors said his first shot was justified, but not the second.

Heaggan-Brown's former partner, Ndiva Malafa, testified last week they were chasing Smith, 23, because they saw he had a gun.


"I saw Mr. Smith exit the vehicle. I observed the firearm and at that point, we made eye contact. At that moment, I believe I started to -- I see him running northeast. Out of the corner of my eye, I see Heaggan-Brown chase him as well," Malafa testified.

Malafa's body camera footage was played several times in court. Malafa also guided the jury through the footage frame by frame, the station reported.

Dominique Heaggan-Brown

The video picks up as Malafa jumps out of this squad car. The shaky footage shows him trailing behind Heaggan-Brown, who is chasing Smith. The suspect ran across a lawn, turned a corner and headed toward a fence but slipped before reaching it.

Smith was armed with a Glock .40-caliber Model 22 semi-automatic handgun with an extended magazine containing 23 rounds.

An autopsy showed that Smith had a gunshot wound through his upper right arm and another to his right upper chest.

Sylville Smith

In the body camera audio, which was activated 30 seconds after the shooting, Heaggan-Brown was heard yelling at Smith: "Stop reaching." He moved Smith's hand away from his waist, the criminal complaint said.

Heaggan-Brown had previously said he believed Smith "was reaching for his waist so he discharged his weapon a second time."

In an interview with FOX6, Smith's brother Sedan said: "It's the longest 30 seconds of my life to be able to just watch the video."

CLICK HERE to access thousands of pages worth of documentation related to this case -- released by the Wisconsin Department of Justice's Division of Criminal Investigation after Heaggan-Brown's acquittal. WARNING: Some of this material is graphic, and not appropriate for all audiences. Viewer discretion is advised.

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