MILWAUKEE -- Former Milwaukee police officer Dominique Heaggan-Brown has been charged with first-degree reckless homicide in connection with the fatal shooting of Sylville Smith. Smith's death sparked days of unrest in Milwaukee's Sherman Park neighborhood in August.
Heaggan-Brown was charged on Thursday, December 15th with one count of first-degree reckless homicide -- a charge which comes with a maximum sentence of 60 years in prison. Heaggan-Brown will make his initial appearance in court on this charge on Friday, December 16th.
According to the criminal complaint, Heaggan-Brown and another officer were in the neighborhood near 44th and Auer around 3:45 p.m. on Saturday, August 13th. The complaint indicates "two male subjects fled from a vehicle and were pursued" by the officers. One individual, Smith, "was armed with a semi-automatic pistol and was subsequently shot two times by P.O. Heaggan-Brown." Smith later died from his injuries.
The complaint says both Heaggan-Brown and the second officer were wearing body cameras during this incident. A review of the body camera footage from both officers shows they pursued Smith on foot. According to the complaint, the "video shows Smith slip to the ground as he approaches a chain link fence between two houses. The video shows Smith rise back to his feet with the gun still in his right hand and Smith turns his head and upper body towards the officers. He then raises the gun upward while looking in the direction of the officers and throws the gun over the fence into the yard."
Shooting scene near 44th and Auer, Milwaukee
The complaint goes on to say, "while Smith raises his gun upward, P.O. Heaggan-Brown discharges one shot from his service weapon at Smith and Smith falls to the ground on his back." After going to the ground, Smith was unarmed.
According to the criminal complaint, the body camera video "shows Smith falls to his back, with his legs and arms going up towards his head in what appears to be a half backwards roll. P.O. Heaggan-Brown is observed standing a short distance from Smith with his weapon pointed down at Smith when Heaggan-Brown discharges a second shot from his weapon at what appears to be Smith's chest."
A review of the body camera video "confirms that at the time of the second shot, Smith was unarmed and had his hands near his head."
The complaint says the "elapsed time between the discharge of the first shot and the second shot by P.O. Heaggan-Brown was determined to be 1.69 seconds."
Heaggan-Brown was interviewed regarding the incident with Smith. The complaint says Heaggan-Brown says he "fired once at which time he observed the pistol fly out of Smith's hands and over the fence into the backyard of the residence. Smith then fell to the ground and Heaggan-Brown believed he was reaching for his waist so he discharged his weapon a second time." A review of the body camera footage "shows that at no time after the shooting did Heaggan-Brown or any other officer search Smith for a second firearm."
The family of Sylville Smith issued the following statement in light of the charge filed:
"We appreciate that the District Attorney has shown independence and sound judgment in prosecuting the officer who shot and killed Sylville. We also appreciate that this is but the first step in holding that officer accountable, but a necessary step in bringing some measure of justice.
"We always believed that Sylville should be alive today, and that this rogue officer was completely wrong. Though the decision to prosecute cannot bring back Sylville, justice is needed for our family as we continue to move through deep grief and seek justice for his wrongful death."
Gov. Scott Walker issued the following statement on this case:
"I’m not going to prejudge him until he goes through the legal process and we see, ultimately, what a jury or court decides. Again, I think overwhelmingly, I want to make it clear, overwhelmingly, law enforcement in this state does a tremendous job under difficult circumstances, but if people are violating the law, not matter if they’re in law enforcement or not, they should be held accountable."
Senator Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) issued this statement:
“My prayers go out to Mr. Smith’s son, mother, father, siblings and supporters who have had to endure the consequences of this horrific tragedy. Clearly the actions after Mr. Smith’s death were based in people being sick and tired of being sick and tired of a lack of justice as the status quo. Today’s charging decision affords the opportunity to rebuild trust that no one is above the law, not even those who take an oath to protect and serve.”
Rep. David Bowen (D-Milwaukee) issued this statement:
"Today's announcement that charges have been brought on Sylville Smith's shooter is an important step toward justice for Sylville, his family and friends, and a community that mourns his death. Nothing the legal system does could end the grief of those who knew and loved Sylville, but it can bring the peace of mind of knowing that rogue police officers acting outside and above the law are subject to accountability.
The body camera evidence as detailed by the criminal complaint also shows that politician David Clarke is all talk when he says "police brutality doesn't exist." Shooting an unarmed person laying on his back in the chest is without question police brutality.
I am grateful for the national and local community organizations like Color of Change as well as the Smith family for their consistent and peaceful pursuit of justice for Sylville and other victims of police brutality. They should be very proud of their efforts to assert accountability for acts of injustice.
I encourage law enforcement and community leaders to come together to work with lawmakers to make changes to the justice system to ensure accountability for officers who act outside the law."
Milwaukee Alderman Khalif Rainey issued this statement:
"I welcome the news today that the District Attorney’s office has charged former Milwaukee police officer Dominique Heaggan-Brown with first-degree reckless homicide in the fatal on-duty shooting of Sylville Smith. But also, I cannot help but feel some hope that the wheels of justice might finally be grinding into action.
This is a significant step for the integrity of the justice system in a case that has caused great pain in the Sherman Park neighborhood, and has sent shockwaves throughout our city, state and nation. Through its independent investigation, the state’s Department of Justice has determined that Smith raised his gun and was tossing it away when Officer Heaggan-Brown opened fire on him. Acting on their findings, the District Attorney today announced the charges. I do not think that there can be any doubt that the District Attorney was right to do so.
My thoughts are with the Smith family today as their search for truth and rectitude continues. I hope that they find some comfort in the fact that their son’s killer is being prosecuted, and I hope as well that we learn many more of the answers to their questions.
We should strive for a world in which no one is above the justice system—especially those who take an oath to protect and serve their community. Today’s decision was a step in that direction, but there remains much work to do."
Milwaukee Alderman Russell Stamper II issued this statement:
"Given the new information about the police body camera footage of the shooting of Sylville Smith, I think there can be no question that the District Attorney’s office made the right call today in issuing charges against former police officer Dominique Heaggan-Brown.
After what our community went through in the aftermath of the shooting, I hope that this is a significant step in the healing process for many. For Mr. Smith’s family especially, I hope they find some comfort in knowing that the justice system is pursuing exactly what the family has demanded since this all began—justice.
We must remain diligent in our efforts to seek justice, and the filing of these charges serves as only a starting point."
The district attorney said Thursday the body camera video from this incident is not being released until the case has concluded.
The Milwaukee Police Department terminated Dominique Heaggan-Brown’s employment effective October 31st.
The firing had nothing to do with the shooting of Sylville Smith.
According to MPD, the termination was the result of a Milwaukee Police Department Internal Affairs investigation related to the criminal complaint filed against him on October 20th -- accusing him of sexual assault.
The investigation found Heaggan-Brown to be in violation of the Milwaukee Police Code of Conduct, Core Value- Integrity that states:
“Department members shall obey local ordinances and state and federal laws, whether on or off-duty” and “whether on or off duty, department members shall not behave in such a way that a reasonable person would expect that discredit could be brought upon the department, or that it would create the appearance of impropriety or corruptive behavior," according to a statement from MPD officials.
He's facing the following criminal charges in that sexual assault case:
According to a criminal complaint, on August 15th, two days after the shooting of Sylville Smith, a victim reported to Milwaukee police he had been sexually assaulted by Heaggan-Brown while off-duty. An investigation, conducted by MPD's Internal Affairs Division and Sensitive Crimes Division, resulted in the criminal complaint filed by the Milwaukee County District Attorney's Office. MPD's investigation revealed additional allegations, resulting in added charges.
The criminal complaint filed against Heaggan-Brown on October 20th indicates there were four victims in all. The incidents described in the complaint happened in December 2015, July 2016 and August 2016.
In the most recent alleged crime, Heaggan-Brown apparently dropped an adult victim off at St. Joseph's Hospital on August 15th. Heaggan-Brown told hospital workers the victim was "completely out, zonked out of his gourd." While nurses were giving aid to the victim, the complaint indicates the victim "flipped out. 'Help me, help me, he was touching me,' exclaimed (the victim)."
The complaint indicates that further investigation showed that this most recent victim and Heaggan-Brown first met when the victim "was looking for another musician" to help with his music. "As a rapper, the defendant thought he could assist (the victim)," the complaint says.
On August 14th, Heaggan-Brown and the victim went to a bar. They "sat and watched television, as coverage of the Sherman Park protests aired." The victim told police he "had difficulty remembering what transpired after (the victim) left the bar with the defendant." He did recall waking up to the defendant attempting inappropriate sexual acts on him. The victim also told police he "felt drugged."
On August 15th, after Heaggan-Brown took that victim to the hospital, the complaint indicates he reached out to a City of Milwaukee police sergeant -- a mentor of his. A text message from Heaggan-Brown to the sergeant reads as follows:
"Not so good got a separate situation. Need your help big time...But need to handle this the most secret and right way possible."
After an interview with investigators, police went through Heaggan-Brown's phone. They found messages with two other individuals who told police Heaggan-Brown offered them money for sex. One said it happened on eight or nine separate occasions -- the other three of four different times.
Heaggan-Brown was initially suspended from the Milwaukee Police Department. He was later terminated.
He was first appointed to MPD as a police aide in 2010, and became a probationary police officer in 2013.
Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn had this to say when sexual assault charges were filed against Heaggan-Brown:
"These are grave charges, these are charges that go to the heart of our conduct of conduct of our oath to protect and serve. The issue surrounding the shooting (of Sylville Smith) is gonna have to be decided on the lawfulness of the shooting, and the context of the events in which it occurred -- not the character of the individual who did the shooting."
Officials with the Milwaukee Fire Department said $5.8 million worth of damage was done to businesses during the unrest on August 13th and 14th in the Sherman Park neighborhood on the heels of the fatal shooting of Sylville Smith.
"It's 5.8 million -- and that's a rough estimate," MFD Battalion Chief Aaron Lipski said.
Lipski said that dollar amount includes both damage to structures and contents at these locations:
O'Reilly Auto Parts
O'Reilly Auto Parts, which was a total loss, suffered the most damage -- at $1.4 million.
Damage to the BP gas station at Sherman and Burleigh is estimated at $589,000.
What remains after unrest near Sherman & Auer in Milwaukee
What remains after unrest near Sherman & Auer in Milwaukee
What remains after unrest near Sherman & Auer in Milwaukee
Half of the Jet Beauty store was gone in the wake of the unrest. Damage is estimated at $800,000.
Damage to the BMO Harris Bank is estimated at more than $1.2 million.
Other businesses that were damaged include Big Jim's Liquor, PJ Supermarket and MJM Liquor.
Fire at liquor store near Fond du Lac & Meinecke
Lipski said his crews responded to 89 reports of fires on August 13th. Some stemmed from the unrest, while others happened in different areas of the city. Lipski said the usual 212 firefighters working that shift were well-equipped to handle the high volume of calls, and he didn't have to call in any extra people.
"We respond to that area with a very specific set of protocols and we keep the rest of the city functioning as normal," Lipski said.
Unrest in Milwaukee
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