Eighteen months after Dontre Hamilton was shot and killed by then-Milwaukee police officer Christopher Manney, the Department of Justice (DOJ) has announced that it will not file federal civil rights charges against Manney.
After reviewing information from the state’s investigation and recordings of interviews, and consulting with the medical examiner, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division and the FBI concluded that there wasn’t enough evidence to pursue charges. From the official statement:
The team of experienced federal prosecutors and FBI agents considered whether Manney violated federal law by willfully using unreasonable force against Hamilton. Under the applicable federal criminal civil rights statute, prosecutors must establish, beyond a reasonable doubt, that a law enforcement officer willfully deprived an individual of a Constitutional right. To establish willfulness, federal authorities must show that the officer acted with the deliberate and specific intent to do something the law forbids. This is the highest standard of intent imposed by law. Mistake, misperception, negligence or poor judgment are not sufficient to establish a federal criminal civil rights violation.
In this case, there were numerous civilian witnesses who saw some part of the physical confrontation between Manney and Hamilton. Based on those eyewitness accounts, the account of the former officer involved, the physical evidence and the assessments of independent use of force experts, the team of experienced federal prosecutors and FBI agents determined that the evidence was insufficient to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Manney acted willfully with a bad purpose to violate the law. Accordingly, the federal review of this incident has been closed without prosecution. This decision is limited strictly to an application of the high legal standard required to prosecute the case under the federal civil rights statute; it does not reflect an assessment of any other aspect of the incident that led to Hamilton’s death.
On April 30, 2014, Manney, who is white, shot Hamilton 14 times at Red Arrow Park in Milwaukee. After receiving a call from a nearby Starbucks that Hamilton was sleeping in the park, other officers checked on him twice, found he was not breaking any laws and left. Manney then arrived and patted him down. Hamilton—who had a history of mental illness—resisted. Manney hit Hamilton with his baton and the latter wrestled it away and hit the officer. Manney then shot and killed the 31-year-old. Manney, who is white, was fired not for using excessive force, but for not following department rules ahead of firing his weapon.
Hamilton’s family issued a statement to FOX6 News via their attorney, Jonathan Safran, which read in part:
The Hamilton family and their attorneys are extremely disappointed with the decision, and are also dismayed by the length of time it took the federal government to make this decision. … The Hamilton family has seen no accountability to‐date for Dontre’s death. It appears that the only way for the full facts to be analyzed and the accountability to be provided will be by way of a Civil Rights lawsuit to be filed by the Hamilton family attorneys in Federal Court. We are prepared to do just that. While they wait for their own family’s justice, the Hamilton family will continue to work to bring positive change to Milwaukee and to empower mothers and families who have experienced injustice to speak out and obtain justice for their family members who have died at the hands of others, often at the hands of law enforcement officers.
Congresswoman Gwen Moore (D-Wis.) also made a statement in response to the lack of civil rights charges:
As a mother to two young black men, I am especially saddened by the Department of Justice’s decision not to bring criminal civil rights charges against Officer Christopher Manney. … As we saw in the case of Mr. Hamilton, men and women battling mental illness are all too often confronted by our criminal justice system with disastrous results. As we move forward, we must work to prevent further tragedies by providing law enforcement officials with the tools they need to safely interact with mentally ill individuals and holding officers accountable for their actions.
Following the Justice Department’s decision, Milwaukee PD chief Edward Flynn announced that he will launch a collaborative reform initiative as part of the DOJ’s Community Oriented Policing Services program. Those initiatives aim to improve the relationship between law enforcement and the communities they serve using long-term turnaround strategies. Baltimore and St. Louis County police are among the municipalities currently enrolled in the program.
“I do this in recognition of the inevitable fact that there are many in this community that still question this department’s commitment to reform as well as its commitment to transparency,” Flynn told reporters.