Family of Dontre Hamilton files federal civil rights lawsuit against Milwaukee, Christopher Manney

MILWAUKEE -- The family of Dontre Hamilton filed a federal civil rights lawsuit in Milwaukee on Wednesday, April 27th. The lawsuit names both former Milwaukee Police Officer Christopher Manney and the City of Milwaukee as defendants -- and was filed on behalf of Dontre Hamilton's son.

Officer-involved fatal shooting at Red Arrow Park

According to a statement released by the family, they are "seeking justice and accountability" for the death of 31-year-old Dontre on April 30, 2014. Dontre was shot and killed by Manney in Red Arrow Park in downtown Milwaukee.

"I really haven`t seen any progress in the policing of black people in Milwaukee," Maria Hamilton, Dontre Hamilton's mother said on April 27th, as the family announced this lawsuit.

"What we can do through this civil suit is make them more conscious -- and that`s not only the police department, that`s the city of Milwaukee," Nate Hamilton, Dontre Hamilton's brother said.

Dontre Hamilton and Christopher Manney

The following is noted in a news release issued by Hamilton family Attorney Jonathan Safran:

"Justice and accountability have been hard to come by for Dontre Hamilton’s family. Previously,
the Milwaukee County district attorney refused to issue state criminal charges against former
Officer Manney. Likewise, the United States Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, and the
United States Attorney’s Office refused to issue federal criminal charges against Manney. As the
two‐year anniversary of the shooting death of Dontre approaches, the family is left with one
final avenue to obtain accountability and justice for this tragedy. We have, therefore, filed this
civil lawsuit.

The federal complaint, which begins the lawsuit, lays out in detail the facts relating to Christopher Manney illegally shooting and killing Dontre Hamilton. While it may take more time, we believe that this civil rights lawsuit will provide a full account of what led Manney to confront, unlawfully detain, illegally search, and then subsequently shoot Dontre fourteen times, resulting in his death.

The federal complaint and the attached exhibits also explain how the city of Milwaukee’s
unconstitutional customs, policies and practices caused the death of Dontre Hamilton.
Examples of these unconstitutional customs, policies and practices include the city’s failure to
conduct psychological testing of Milwaukee police officers, the failure to discipline Milwaukee
police officers for misconduct, the “code of silence” that exists within the Milwaukee Police
Department, the widespread pattern of Milwaukee police officers conducting unconstitutional
searches and using excessive force, and the city’s failure to provide promised and necessary
Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training to Milwaukee police officers so that they can properly
interact with persons suffering from psychological conditions, such as with Dontre. The federal
complaint also describes how the Milwaukee Police Department failed to properly follow the
new Wisconsin law which required an outside agency to investigate former Officer Manney’s

We believe that this lawsuit will expose how many of the customs, policies and practices of the city of Milwaukee and its police department have contributed to actions of police officers in causing injuries and deaths to its citizens. We hope that this lawsuit leads to systemic changes within the city of Milwaukee and its police department so as to prevent future unconstitutional violations and future tragedies. No family should suffer like the family of Dontre Hamilton.

In addition to Christopher Manney’s actions, we believe that this lawsuit will expose how many
of the customs, policies and practices of the city of Milwaukee and its police department have
contributed to actions of police officers in causing injuries and deaths to its citizens. We hope
that this lawsuit leads to systemic changes within the city of Milwaukee and its police
department so as to prevent future unconstitutional violations and future tragedies. No family
should suffer like the family of Dontre Hamilton."

Hamilton was shot 14 times after Manney responded to a complaint of a man sleeping in Red Arrow Park on April 30th, 2014. Police said the shooting happened after a struggle, during which Hamilton grabbed Manney's baton. Manney was never charged, but he was fired after the police chief said he unnecessarily frisked Hamilton.

The 46-page lawsuit alleges a long, tragic history of a widespread pattern of violations committed by MPD officers.

It also says Dontre Hamilton suffered an unlawful detention, an unreasonable search and a fatal use of excessive force.

"The federal complaint also explains how the city of Milwaukee`s unconstitutional customs, policies and practices contributed to Dontre`s death," Safran said.

Dontre Hamilton's family

The lawsuit focuses on what Hamilton's family and their attorneys see as a lack of psychological screening for Milwaukee police officers. Perhaps, the lawsuit speculates, Manney would have been weeded out before he was hired. The suit also says only 367 of the force's 1,800 officers have gone through CIT (crisis intervention training).

"The emphasis here is not to indict the entire police department. Generally, they do a good job. What they do not do well is identifying the rogues and the scoundrels," Hamilton family attorney Alex Flynn said.

MPD spokesman Tim Gauerke said the department doesn't comment on pending litigation. City attorney Grant Langley also declined comment.

Manney spoke for the first time about the Hamilton incident when he talked on News/Talk 1130 in February.

Christopher Manney

"Life is 100% different and (my kids) say 'I want my dad back,' and it's tough. This incident has completely changed my life. Everyone says I'm this huge racist guy. But my nanny is Puerto Rican and Mexican. My kids are of a different race," Manney said.

Manney also described in that interview how his own family members struggle with mental illness.

"I will stand with the Hamilton family when it comes to justice, when it comes to the mental health issues because it just tore me apart. It just tore me apart. Why wasn't he at MCMH (Milwaukee County Mental Health)," Manney said.

Manney no longer lives in the state of Wisconsin. He said he was offered other jobs in law enforcement as soon as the day after he was fired. However, he says he is not fit to work as he still suffers from PTSD.