MILWAUKEE — Lawyers for Devon Kraemer, the Brown Deer police officer who is on trial for a March 2016 shooting, brought in their own use-of-force instructor on Wednesday, Feb. 21. The expert said Kraemer’s actions were justified and a Taser was not a reasonable option.
“To me, this is a violent, chaotic event,” said Robert Willis, a Wisconsin-based use-of-force expert.
Willis shared his take on the surveillance video from a Milwaukee County Transit System bus in March of 2016. Officer Kraemer and Officer Michael Leeman took Manuel Burnley Jr. off the bus.
Burnley had cussed out the driver over a fare dispute.
The video shows Leeman stepped in front of Burnley to get him to the ground but all three fell. Seconds later, Kraemer shot Burnley once in the back while he was on his stomach. Burnley was unarmed. Prosecutors charged Kraemer with aggravated battery.
While Burnley was initially arrested after the incident, he was never charged with a crime. The Milwaukee County District Attorney’s office has not responded to our questions about whether Milwaukee Police, who handled the investigation, ever referred charges to their office and, if so, why the declined to file them.
During Wednesday’s testimony, Willis said the video shows Burnley continuing to resist the officers attempts to arrest him on the ground.
“You can see there’s movement occurring. Nobody’s laying there and not moving,” said Willis.
Willis was brought in by Kraemer’s lawyers. He said Burnley’s resistance gave Kraemer several reasons to be fearful; one being his weight of 370 pounds.
“We have a saying in police work that fat always wins in the short-term because mass, body mass and body weight are very important in a violent confrontation like this,” Willis said.
Earlier in the trial, a use-of-force expert for the prosecution said Kraemer acted unreasonably in shooting Burnley. Emanuel Kapelsohn testified she should’ve tried using a Taser first. Kapelsohn is from Pennsylvania but previously consulted in the 2014 Dontre Hamilton shooting investigation, stating he believed that deadly shooting was justified. Burnley survived the shooting but lost part of his lung.
Willis disagreed with Kapelsohn and said Burnley’s size, loose clothing and the Taser placement on Kraemer’s belt made that a bad option in this case.
“If the Taser is placed in a cross-draw configuration, you can’t get to the other side of your body to release the Taser,” said Willis.
On cross-examination, prosecutor James Griffin asked if Burnley’s size was such a threat, doesn’t the fact Leeman was able to flip him over mean he wasn’t fully resisting?
“A very, very quick flip, yes,” said Willis.
“Almost as if Mr. Burnley wasn’t really fighting it,” said Griffin.
“There could’ve been a number of variables. It depends on the way his body was moving at the time,” replied Willis.
Last week, the judge told jurors to prepare for the trial running through Wednesday, Feb. 21. Wednesday, he told them the trial could now continue into next week. If convicted, Kraemer faces a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison. She had been suspended with pay by the Brown Deer Police Department since the time of the shooting.