Town hall meeting held to discuss concerns relating to Williams' death

MILWAUKEE -- A town hall meeting was held Wednesday evening, October 3rd during which leaders heard residents' questions and concerns relating to the death of 22-year-old Derek Williams -- the man who died in police custody back in July of 2011. Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn was on hand to address concerns and hear advice.

Last week, an attorney for Williams' girlfriend said Chief Flynn should lose his job over the Williams' case. That request was echoed during Wednesday night's town hall meeting. The group also demanded the badges of the two MPD officers involved in the Williams' case, and supported the call for a federal investigation.

"Despite what happened here tonight, I want to commend the police department, because some of the things that were said were not easy to take. We informed Chief Flynn that we expect his removal as the chief of police -- either by resignation or termination," Reverend Steve Jerbi with All Peoples Church said.

Flynn said Wednesday night he will not step down -- saying his focus is on his department.

"That's the last thing I'm worried about quite honestly. I'm worried about the positioning of this police department for maximum service, and I'm not at all worried about my career," Chief Flynn said.

Following the outrage caused by Williams' death and the dashcam video showing him struggling to breathe in the back of a Milwaukee police squad car, some have said there's a crisis of confidence for MPD.

"There are some great officers, and there are some great commanders. We don't paint the department with a broad brush. But there is something terribly wrong when you have body cavity searches and depraved indifference going through our community," Reverend Jerbi said.

Chief Flynn said he attended the town hall meeting to hear advice for the department moving forward -- adding the effectiveness of a police department depends on community trust.

Wednesday evening's town hall meeting came hours after over 100 participated in a march and rally calling for justice and accountability in Williams' death.

The march and rally were organized by the Campaign Against Violence/WI League of Young Voters.

Family members of Williams, members of the community, activists and faith leaders marched from the Dr. King Statue (1740 N. MLK Drive) to MacArthur Square (841 N. James Lovell Street.

Williams' 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).

Dashcam video showing Williams in the back of a squad car apparently struggling to breathe has caused outrage among those concerned about civil rights violations. City leaders, faith leaders, attorneys representing Williams' family and members of the public have called for an investigation into Williams' death.

The Milwaukee County District Attorney on Tuesday, October 2nd named a special prosecutor to handle an inquest into Williams' death.

Earlier this week, FOX6 News learned two MPD officers at the scene when Williams died were also at the scene when at least one suspect was subject to an illegal cavity search by another officer.

An attorney in both the Williams case and the cavity search case is calling for an investigation by the U.S. Attorney's Office.

"Considering all the issues concerning the department itself and I think, the deterioration of the trust of the department and the chief, it warrants and behooves the Department of Justice to review the department as a whole in regards to whether there has been and continues to be a pattern and practice of civil rights violations that have been continuing and may be continuing to this day," Attorney Jonathan Safran said.

The Milwaukee NAACP chapter is calling for a restructuring of the Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission to focus on citizen input. The restructuring would include strengthening of the Civil Equal Rights Commission, re-establishing the County Human Rights Commission and creating a State Office of Human Rights to hear citizen civil rights complaints.

Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn is expected to meet with the Fire and Police Commission behind closed doors before its regular meeting on Thursday, October 4th.

In an interview with FOX6 News last week, Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn said his department did make an error in not getting Williams help quickly enough. However, Chief Flynn said Williams' death was not intentional.

“As tragic as this death was, the individual involved had just been in a foot pursuit, climbed a fence, lost his shirt, stuck on the fence, hidden from the police, been captured by the police, briefly struggled, and handcuffed. Doesn’t mean we don’t take responsibility for not reacting more rapidly to his medical crisis,” Chief Flynn said.

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