Former Milwaukee police officer Dominique Heaggan-Brown was found not guilty on Wednesday of reckless homicide for the August 2016 shooting of Sylville Smith, a 23-year-old Black man.
Heagann-Brown, who faced up to 60 years in prison, “engaged in a pervasive pattern of excessive force and misconduct,” according to the family’s civil suit filed against the city after the criminal trial verdict, yet he was allowed to stay on the force.
He “should never have been hired and should have been disciplined when he engaged in a pervasive pattern of excessive force and misconduct. The City of Milwaukee, however, disregarded the obvious and, through its policies and practices, caused this tragedy,” the lawsuit reads.
Heagann-Brown was neither fired nor suspended after killing Smith. Two months later, he was charged with multiple counts of sexual assault and prostitution in another case, after which he was arrested and fired by the Milwaukee Police Department.
One of the victims alleged that Heagann-Brown assaulted her just one day after Smith’s fatal shooting.
Heaggan-Brown shot Smith twice on August 13 after a routine traffic stop. Police body camera footage shows the interaction, including when Smith fell to the ground during a foot chase.
Smith, who was armed at the time, threw a gun over a nearby fence. Heaggan-Brown fired the first shot when Smith’s gun was raised in the air, but the second, fatal shot occurred when Smith was unarmed.
In closing arguments during Wednesday’s trial, District Attorney Jonathan Chisholm argued that Heaggan-Brown “knew at the time he fired that second shot, when that bullet went ripping through Sylville Smith’s chest, ripping into his heart, ripping into his lung and ending up in his lower back, he knew at that point in time that there was no imminent threat.”
The case brings to light how police, regardless of color and gender, are often protected when they’re involved in shootings with Black victims. The killings of Freddie Gray, Philando Castile, Akai Gurley and Delrawn Small all involved officers of color. In May, Betty Shelby was acquitted of manslaughter charges despite video footage showing her fatally shooting Terrence Crutcher, an unarmed Oklahoma pastor who had his arms raised at the time he was shot, last September.
The case also calls into question the utility of video footage, when fatal police violence — from the 1992 Rodney King Case to the recent killings of Eric Garner and Walter Scott — has not led to any police convictions.
Following an investigation by Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm, he was charged over Smith’s death in December, four months after the incident.