Milwaukee Police Officer Who Fatally Shot Sylville Smith Found Not Guilty

Cameron Gross
June 26, 2017

Heaggan-Brown, 25, and two other officers had approached Smith's rental vehicle because it was parked more than a foot from the curb, and police believed a drug deal was happening.

Smith's family has already filed a lawsuit against Heaggan-Brown and the city. As they exited their squad vehicle, Mr. Smith, who was armed with a handgun, darted away and ran into a yard with a chain-link fence. Heaggan-Brown fired his first shot - a shot the prosecution conceded was lawful - and then fired the second, fatal shot less than two seconds later, just after Smith had thrown away his pistol The prosecution claimed that the second shot constituted reckless homicide. It was later determined that Heaggan-Brown's first shot struck Smith in his right bicep area with the bullet passing through Smith's bicep and lodging in a window casement to the east of the shooting. "And our argument is that justification did not change over the course of 1.69 seconds between shots".

The entire episode lasted about 12 seconds.

Smith then fell to the ground and was unarmed, but Heaggan-Brown fired a second shot at Smith's chest, according to the criminal complaint.

Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm urged those disappointed with the verdict to remain calm, saying the case was a hard one for prosecutors.

The encounter began when Heaggan-Brown and two other cops said they saw Sylville Smith's rental vehicle parked a foot away from a curb and suspected a drug deal was taking place.

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"In this unique set of circumstances, you had a legitimate use of force on the first encounter, when the officer reasonably thought that he was presented with the threat of death or great bodily harm".

"A gunfight doesn't end until the threat is stopped", he said. Heaggan-Brown chose not to testify.

Ninety seconds passed before the officer chose to help Smith but he quickly stopped when some blood got on his thumb, which he then wiped on Smith's shirt, according to the lawsuit. Heaggan-Brown fired the second shot because he believed Smith was reaching for his waist, according to the complaint.

Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn said on Twitter, "A year ago I told the public I'd seen nothing in the video that was a violation of the law or policy".

Officer Dominique Heaggan-Brown had faced up to 60 years in prison on the charge of first-degree reckless homicide for his role in the death of Sylville Smith. The killing sparked protests in the Sherman Park neighborhood of Milwaukee that saw the torching of cop cars and a handful of nearby businesses, as well as the mobilization of the National Guard.

Heaggan-Brown was only the second Milwaukee police officer to be charged in an on-duty homicide in modern history. A police expert in the use of deadly force says on Monday that Heaggan-Brown, on trial for fatally shooting a black man after a foot chase "acted in accordance with his training".

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