Inquest into death of Derek Williams to begin Monday

MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- An inquest into the death of Derek Williams is scheduled to begin on Monday, February 11th.

22-year-old Williams died in the backseat of a squad car in July of 2011 after 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.

Williams' death sparked outrage in the community after the dashcam video showing him struggling to breathe was released.

Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn has acknowledged his officers didn't appropriately respond to Williams before his death. However, Flynn said MPD has changed police procedures to make sure this doesn't happen again.

Medical Examiner’s report originally indicated Williams’ cause of death as complications due to Sickle cell trait — but that report was amended, and the cause of death changed to homicide (death at the hands of another).

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.

First on the agenda in the inquest is finding a jury. Six jurors will be chosen with three alternates. There is some concern by those supporting the Williams family that the inquest jury may not end up being diverse.

"We're certainly hoping that this will indeed be a diverse jury. I would be concerned certainly from the public's standpoint if it's not. Hopefully the court and special prosecutor will make sure that indeed does occur," Attorney Jonathan Safran, who is representing the Williams' family said.

The officers involved may testify during the inquest.

"Officers may want to assert their fifth amendment privilege and not testify. If that's the case, they'll be limited information," Safran said.

Jurors will not be allowed to ask questions during the inquest. They'll have to look at the evidence, hear the testimony and reach a verdict -- which will be recommendations to the judge.

Safran says he expects the proceeding to last about a week. After hearing all the evidence, the jury's verdict will be an advisory opinion on whether the officers should face criminal charges.

Separate from this inquest is a federal civil rights investigation into the Williams case. Safran believes the U.S. Attorney's Office will be watching the results of the inquest closely. Safran says he wouldn't be surprised to see some sort of action from that office within 30 days from the end of this inquest.

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