Federal civil rights investigation to begin in death of Derek Williams

MILWAUKEE -- Officials announced on Wednesday, October 10th the beginning of a federal civil rights investigation into the in-custody death of Derek Williams. The investigation will work to determine whether anyone is criminally responsible for Williams' death.

Williams died while in police custody in July 2011. His 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.

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.

During their announcement Wednesday, federal authorities did not say to what degree public outcry played into their decision to launch this federal investigation.

FBI Special Agent Teresa Carlson indicated during a news conference that the FBI and other federal authorities will thoroughly look at all the evidence in this case and present their findings to federal prosecutors. The federal prosecutors will then determine whether there is criminal culpability in the case.

"The Medical Examiner's reclassification of the cause of death from natural to homicide we believe warrants an independent investigation," Carlson said.

Carlson indicated while the FBI has a collaborative, working relationship with the Milwaukee Police Department, it has the unique position of having to investigate its partner in this case. However, Carlson says it has demonstrated in the past the ability to do so impartially.

Carlson said Police Chief Ed Flynn has pledged to cooperate fully with the FBI.

U.S. Attorney James Santelle was also present at the news conference -- and indicated that his office, along with the FBI, will bring all of its resources, judgment and integrity to this case.

Santelle says 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.

Santelle says the launching of the Williams' federal investigation is not about trust. Rather, it's a way to tell the public they can be assured the federal investigators will bring to this investigation new eyes and new insight.

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

News of the federal investigation into the Williams' case came on the heels of Tuesday's announcement that four MPD officers have been charged for alleged illegal cavity searches.

Officials said Wednesday that while this case is being watched closely, it is not yet under investigation by federal authorities.

CLICK HERE for additional coverage on the Derek Williams’ death investigation via FOX6Now.com.