Justice Department Opens Probe of Milwaukee Police Officer Fatal Shooting

Cop won't face county charges in April incident.

December 22, 2014, 6:48 PM

— -- After county prosecutors announced they won't charge a white former Milwaukee police officer in connection with the killing of a black man in April, the U.S. Department of Justice said today that it will review the case for possible civil rights violations.

Earlier today the county prosecutor determined that the shooting was a justified use of deadly force in self-defense. Dontre Hamilton, 31, was shot 14 times by Officer Christopher Manney, after the two got into a violent struggle in a downtown Milwaukee park.

"This was a tragic incident for the Hamilton family and for the community," concluded the report by Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm. "But, based on all the evidence and analysis presented in this report, I come to the conclusion that Officer Manney's use of force in this incident was justified self-defense and that defense cannot be reasonably overcome to establish a basis to charge Officer Manney with a crime."

The Justice department will "undertake a federal review of this case to determine if, under federal civil rights law, there is a basis, both legal and factual, upon which a federal civil rights prosecution may be premised," the U.S. attorney said in a statement. The Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Wisconsin and the Civil Rights Division will conduct the review.

The April 30 incident began with an employee of a Starbuck's coffee kiosk calling police to complain about Hamilton sleeping in Red Arrow Park in downtown Milwaukee.

Two other Milwaukee officers had responded to the call and determined, after speaking with Hamilton, that he was not causing a disturbance. Manney later retrieved a voicemail referencing the complaints about Hamilton and went to the park to respond -– apparently unaware that the other officers had already contacted him.

The prosecutor's report cites more than a dozen witness accounts from bystanders who saw the majority of the incident, which apparently began while Manney was checking Hamilton for weapons, and then quickly escalated, though the accounts differ on which man was the aggressor.

Manney claimed in his statement to investigators that Hamilton had been the aggressor -- lunging and punching at him as the officer was attempting to pat him down -- and ultimately gaining control of the officer's baton, according to the cops account in the report.

"[Hamilton] lunged at him and tried to strike him with a fist," the report says in summarizing Manney's statement. "Officer Manney blocked the punch and struck Hamilton with an open palm to the chin. Hamilton then grabbed Manney in the shoulder area, pulled him towards him and struck him [Manney] in the right head area. Manney felt he was losing control and decided to escalate to his intermediate weapon, a wooden baton."

Manney told investigators Hamilton then struck him in the neck with the baton and that he fired his weapon because he feared Hamilton would continue to attack him and that he "would be dead" as a result, according to the prosecutor's report.

The officer claimed the initial shots did not seem to have any effect on Hamilton, so he continued to fire "because he perceived Hamilton still to be a threat."

In a statement following the prosecutor's announcement, Hamilton's family said they are "extremely disappointed" with the prosecutor's decision.

The family is now calling on the Department of Justice to open a federal civil rights investigation into the shooting.

"This is a case which cries out for justice, criminal charges against Christopher Manney, and accountability to Dontre Hamilton's family," attorneys for the family said in the statement.

Manney was fired by Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn in October, not for use of excessive force, but for what Flynn said was incompetence, accusing Manney of triggering the fight. He was found to have violated department rules in the moments prior to the shooting. Manney had appealed his termination.

"I think a lot of officers misperceive that this one on Manney had to do with his use of force to protect himself, not his bad judgment," Flynn told "Nightline" in an interview a few weeks before the county prosecutor's decision. "The reason I did it was because he was clearly wrong and his judgment placed him in a jeopardy position that resulted in having to take a life."

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