City leaders react to start of Derek Williams federal investigation

MILWAUKEE -- The announcement of the federal civil rights investigation into the death of Derek Williams was applauded by aldermen at Milwaukee's City Hall on Wednesday, October 10th. The investigation will work to determine whether anyone is criminally responsible for Williams' death. As they announced their investigation, federal officials made it clear they want to hear about any other alleged civil rights violations by Milwaukee police.

Williams died while in police custody in July 2011. He was picked up by Milwaukee police officers following a foot chase -- suspected of an attempted robbery. 

Williams' death was captured on a squad camera as he struggled to breathe for nearly 15 minutes without help. MPD and the Milwaukee County District Attorney concluded the officers involved did not break any rules. However, the two did call for an inquest into the Williams' case, and a special prosecutor was appointed for such inquest. Wednesday's announced federal investigation will be separate from the inquest.

Once the dashcam video was released to the public, and the Milwaukee County Medical Examiner's Office amended Williams' cause of death from Sickle cell trait (natural causes) to homicide (death at the hands of another) -- some community leaders and residents called for the firing of Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn and a federal investigation. That request was granted Wednesday.

"It's time. It's long overdue. This has been a 14-month cover-up. (Because) they stepped in as quickly as they did -- I'm delighted," Robin Shellow, a defense attorney for Derek Williams' mother said.

Shellow also represents several of the men who've complained they were strip searched illegally. Four Milwaukee police officers were charged for these alleged illegal body cavity searches on Tuesday.

"We are proud that the U.S. Attorney has made the decision to get involved in this case with the FBI so we can begin to rebuild trust," Alderwoman Milele Coggs said.

The majority of Milwaukee's Common Council members have been calling for such an investigation -- along with members of the community.

U.S. Attorney James Santelle said Wednesday in addition to the Williams' investigation -- he is gathering information to determine whether a much larger investigation (called a Patterns and Practices Investigation) should be launched against MPD.

"Undeniably recent events have animated our focus on this, but this has been a continuing matter and continuing subject of our focus for a long time. This is not about trust or lack of trust in any other institutions of government or investigations. This is about telling the public today that they can be sure that the Federal Bureau of Investigation will bring to this investigation new eyes and new insight and turn over every stone to determine what the fact are and were," Santelle said.

Some Milwaukee County aldermen say they want that Patterns and Practices Investigation to move forward.

No timeline for the Williams' investigation or for when a decision regarding opening up a broader investigation into MPD could occur has been announced.

If you have information that could help federal officials — you’re urged to contact the FBI at 414-276-4684.

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