MILWAUKEE -- A former Milwaukee police officer is charged with reckless homicide in the fatal shooting of a black man that sparked two nights of riots.
Dominique Heaggan-Brown is charged in the Aug. 13 shooting death of Sylville Smith. Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm did not announce the charge, but it showed up Thursday in online court records that also indicated the former officer had made an initial court appearance. Smith had a gun, but charging documents allege that the shot that killed him was fired after he no longer had the weapon.
In a statement released to CBS affiliate WDJT, Smith’s family expressed appreciation for the district attorney’s “independence and sound judgment in prosecuting the officer who shot and killed Sylville.”
“We also appreciate that this is but the first step in holding that officer accountable, but a necessary step in bringing some measure of justice,” the statement continued. “We always believed that Sylville should be alive today, and that this rogue officer was completely wrong. Though the decision to prosecute cannot bring back Sylville, justice is needed for our family as we continue to move through deep grief and seek justice for his wrongful death.”
Heaggan-Brown, who is also black, shot Smith following a traffic stop on the city’s north side. According to a criminal complaint, Heaggan-Brown and another officer chased Smith on foot after he fled from the car. The officers’ body cameras show Smith was carrying a semi-automatic pistol.
Smith fell, got back to his feet with the gun still in his hand, turned toward the officers and raised the gun, according to the complaint. Heaggan-Brown fired a single shot, striking Smith in the arm. The video shows that Smith then threw his gun over the fence. Heaggan-Brown then shot him in the chest, the complaint says. The two shots were fired less than two second apart. After the second shot, Smith appeared to reach toward his waistband but the body camera footage shows at the time of the second shot Smith was unarmed.
Smith’s firearm was reportedly not discharged.
Chisholm’s office said he would not hold any news conference or issue any statement on the charge.
Police Chief Ed Flynn said shortly after the shooting that the incident began when police stopped a suspicious rental car. Smith bolted from the vehicle and ran through a residential neighborhood. Heaggan-Brown gave chase and opened fire after Smith turned toward the officer and began to raise his gun despite Heaggan-Brown’s warnings to drop it, Flynn said.
The neighborhood where Smith was killed is predominantly black. Heaggan-Brown grew up there and has lived near the shooting scene since at least 2012.
Police didn’t release either man’s race the day of the shooting. That night, the neighborhood erupted in violence. Demonstrators burned six businesses and a police squad car.
Flynn released more details the following day, including Heaggan-Brown’s race and that his body camera showed Smith was armed. Flynn didn’t release the video, however, and more violence broke out that night. Protesters again threw rocks and bottles at police, and an 18-year-old man was shot and injured. Police arrested about 40 people over the course of the three nights. Flynn blamed protesters from outside of Milwaukee for much of the unrest.
The District Attorney has said the body camera video will not be released before the case goes to court, WDJT reports.
Flynn fired Heaggan-Brown in October after he was charged with sexual assault in an unrelated case. According to a criminal complaint, Heaggan-Brown and another man went to a bar late on the night of Aug. 14 where they drank heavily and watched television coverage of the riots. The man told investigators that Heaggan-Brown bragged that he could do anything he wanted without repercussions, and that he woke up to Heaggan-Brown sexually assaulting him.
Heaggan-Brown was also charged with soliciting two other people for sex several times since December 2015 and with sexually assaulting another unconscious person in July 2016 and photographing that victim naked. He faces two felony counts of second-degree sexual assault, two misdemeanor prostitution counts and one felony count of capturing an intimate representation of a person without consent.