Prayer vigil held as federal investigation announced in Williams' death

MILWAUKEE -- A prayer vigil was held Wednesday evening, October 10th for Derek Williams on the corner of Humboldt and Center -- the spot where Williams' died while in police custody in July of 2011. This, on the same day officials announced the launch of a federal civil rights investigation into Williams' death. 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.

Wednesday evening, Williams' loved ones along with community activists and leaders joined together in Williams' memory -- but also to talk about how they can continue to be a catalyst for change.

"This is about a man who lost his life in the hands of Milwaukee police officers. He was a loving father, family member and had a lot of friends. (The vigil is) a way of giving closure, praying on the whole case itself, so we can bring those people to justice, which means the officers involved in this case. Praying over the whole case itself for the family," organizer Tracey Dent with the Peace for Change Alliance said.

Williams' mother said Wednesday evening she is glad the FBI has gotten involved. She and others say they feel they are one step closer to getting justice.

"I just want to thank everyone for helping me out as far as reopening everything because I needed the help, and now they're standing up for me. Thank you. We're getting justice and that's all I care about," Williams' mother Sonya Moore said.

Community leaders say they believe the news of a federal investigation is only a small victory. They say they will continue to seek justice for Williams and those who have been in similar situations in the past as well as stop it from happening in the future.

"We still have not gotten to the end result -- and that is justice. We're still going to keep pushing forward. We're not going to give up," Dent said.

FBI Special Agent Teresa Carlson indicated during a news conference 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.

U.S. Attorney James Santelle was also present at the news conference. 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. Seven Milwaukee Common Council members said Wednesday they support such an investigation.

Chief Flynn has reportedly pledged to cooperate fully with the FBI.

If you have information that could assist with this investigation, you're urged to contact the FBI at 414-276-4684.

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