Special prosecutor appointed to investigate Derek Williams' death

MILWAUKEE -- Milwaukee County Circuit Judge John Franke has been appointed as a Public Service Special Prosecutor to oversee the investigation and public inquest into the death of Derek Williams. 

Williams died in July 2011 while in Milwaukee police custody. His death has sparked controversy after the Milwaukee County Medical Examiner amended his cause of death from Sickle cell trait (natural causes) to homicide (death at the hands of another). Recently released dashcam video shows Williams in the back of a squad car apparently struggling to breathe.

Right now, Franke is in private practice and has agreed to handle the matter without compensation. He will be provided any independent resources required to complete the investigation.

"He actually presided over inquests in the past and he has extensive experience as a federal prosecutor and working on complex investigations. With his reputation for fairness and integrity I just thought he'd be an outstanding person to do this," Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm said.

Franke served as a Circuit Court Judge from 1987 through 2008. Prior to his election to the court, he spent 10 years with the U.S. Department of Justice.

On the same day Chisholm appointed Franke to oversee the investigation into Williams' death, he also met with several Milwaukee County Supervisors to answer their questions regarding the investigation.

"We believe it is our responsibility to stay on this case and to ask questions. We are holding the right people accountable. We have to get the facts," Milwaukee County Supervisor Russell Stamper said.

The Milwaukee County Board is working on a list of procedures it would like to see changed within the Milwaukee County Medical Examiner's Office in order to have a better account of how a cause of death is determined.

"Even with our conversations with the Medical Examiner, there are a number of things we need to do to make sure some of the things that happened in this case doesn't happen again. Some are procedural, and our Medical Examiner has agreed to making those changes as well," Milwaukee County Supervisor David Bowen said.

Franke said in a statement Tuesday there is no date set yet for the start of the inquest into Williams' death. That will be worked out between Franke and the presiding judge, Kevin Martens.

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