MILWAUKEE -- The death of 22-year-old Derek Williams while in police custody in July of 2011 has sparked outrage, after dashcam video showing Williams struggling to breathe in the back of a police squad car was released. After the Milwaukee County Medical Examiner changed Williams' cause of death from natural causes (Sickle cell trait) to homicide (death at the hands of another), Milwaukee County's District Attorney and Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn called for an inquest into Williams' death. Now, a man who may have been one of the last to see Williams alive is speaking out about an attempted robbery involving Williams.
"A man, asking me for my wallet. I was kinda shocked at the time. I was definitely scared," Sam Tooke said.
Police reports say the accused thief grabbed Tooke's pocket before he saw a squad car and took off -- disappearing into a neighboring yard.
Williams died later that night while in Milwaukee police custody.
Dashcam video showing Williams in the back of a squad car apparently struggling to breathe. That video has caused outrage among those concerned about civil rights violations. City leaders, faith leaders, attorneys representing Williams' family and members of the public have called for an investigation into Williams' death.
Until the dashcam video was released, Tooke never knew what happened after Williams ran off that night.
"Seeing the video, it was sickening," Tooke said.
Tooke says he appreciates the quick police response, preventing the robbery, but while he's called a victim in the police report, he says he feels sympathy for the man accused of robbing him -- labeled a suspect.
"At the end of the day, (the police) could have possibly saved my life, but (Williams) was definitely a victim too. I think watching (the dashcam video) -- he needed help and he didn't get it, so he would be a victim also," Tooke said.
The Milwaukee County District Attorney on Tuesday, October 2nd named a special prosecutor to handle an inquest into Williams' death.
Monday, FOX6 News learned two MPD officers at the scene when Williams died were also at the scene when at least one suspect was subject to an illegal cavity search by another officer.
An attorney in both the Williams case and the cavity search case is calling for an investigation by the U.S. Attorney's Office.
"Considering all the issues concerning the department itself and I think, the deterioration of the trust of the department and the chief, it warrants and behooves the Department of Justice to review the department as a whole in regards to whether there has been and continues to be a pattern and practice of civil rights violations that have been continuing and may be continuing to this day," Attorney Jonathan Safran said.
The Milwaukee NAACP chapter is calling for a restructuring of the Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission to focus on citizen input. The restructuring would include strengthening of the Civil Equal Rights Commission, re-establishing the County Human Rights Commission and creating a State Office of Human Rights to hear citizen civil rights complaints.
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.
A march and rally calling for justice in Williams' death is planned for Wednesday.
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