MILWAUKEE -- Faith leaders are raising their voices, calling for an independent investigation into the death of 22-year-old Derek Williams. Williams died in July 2011 while in Milwaukee police custody. His death has sparked controversy after the Milwaukee County Medical Examiner amended his cause of death from Sickle cell trait (natural causes) to homicide (death at the hands of another). Recently-released dashcam video shows Williams in the back of a squad car apparently struggling to breathe. This weekend, some church leaders played that video in church.
Inside Milwaukee's Cross Lutheran Church, following Sunday services, a handful of adults filled a conference room to view the nearly 15-minute-long recently released dashcam video -- showing the last few minutes of Williams' life.
The video shows Williams saying "I can't breathe" and asking for help, but police only intervening once Williams collapsed.
Reverend Michelle Townsend de Lopez said this was the first of what she hopes is several showings of this dashcam video.
"It just stuns you. You're almost at a loss for words. We wanted to make sure that we were being responsible in that our constituency and our membership knew what was going on," Townsend de Lopez said.
No one in the room Sunday had seen the full video, and many said doing so had an impact.
"It was bad enough to start with, and this is just totally callous -- total lack of human response that anybody should have to this situation," one congregant said.
"It was very difficult as a mother and a human being to watch," another congregant said.
In an interview with FOX6 News last week, Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn said his department did make an error in not getting Williams help quickly enough. However, Chief Flynn said Williams' death was not intentional.
“As tragic as this death was, the individual involved had just been in a foot pursuit, climbed a fence, lost his shirt, stuck on the fence, hidden from the police, been captured by the police, briefly struggled, and handcuffed. Doesn’t mean we don’t take responsibility for not reacting more rapidly to his medical crisis,” Chief Flynn said.
Those who saw the dashcam video for the first time Sunday said they hope public pressure will lead to an independent investigation and if appropriate, accountability.
"If someone doesn't lose their job it would be a real shock to me," one congregant said.
Milwaukee lawmakers have called for a federal investigation into Williams' death.
Last week, Milwaukee County's Medical Examiner was grilled by Milwaukee's Common Council, after changing Williams' official cause of death from natural causes to homicide.
Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn and Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm have called for an inquest into Williams' death. The two announced they are seeking an independent prosecutor to allow a public airing of the facts in this case. Chief Flynn has pledged complete cooperation with the inquest.
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