Former Milwaukee Police Officer Charged with Homicide

By: Cecile Mcintosh, Staff Reporter

On August 13, 2016, Dominique Heaggan- Brown shot Sylville Smith, a twenty- three- year old, during a traffic stop. According to court documents and the body cameras that Heaggan- Brown and his partner were wearing, Smith had a gun initially, but was unarmed when Headdan Brown fired the fatal shot.

Heaggan- Brown stopped Smith’s vehicle according to the criminal complaint. Smith then fled on foot with a gun in his hand. Heaggan- Brown and his partner’s body cameras show Smith falling to the ground, getting up, and then raising his gun. The officer fired a shot which hit Smith in the arm and made him fall to the ground on his back. Then, Smith reportedly threw his gun over the fence and had his hands near his head; however, Heaggan- Brown said he thought the gun flew out of Smith’s hand and that Smith was reaching for another firearm in his waist band, so the officer then fired a fatal, second shot which went into Smith’s chest.

This shooting caused two nights of riots in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The Sherman Park neighborhood began to overflow with anger. These riots were sparked because the people were still discontent with how police have dealt with minorities, which has led to numerous Black Lives Matter protests throughout 2016. As a result of the riots, six businesses and a squad car were burned, one man was shot but survived, and about 40 people were arrested. Furthermore, bricks were hurled through police car windows, rocks were thrown at officers, and there was vandalism all over bus shelters. It grew extremely out of control which led to the Wisconsin National Guard being called.  

Heaggan- Brown was fired in October because of unrelated charges in a sexual assault case, but the city officials were waiting to see if he would be charged for the shooting as well. On Friday, December 16, the Milwaukee County District Attorney, John T. Chisholm, charged Heaggan-Brown with first- degree reckless homicide. That evening, the police chief, Ed Flynn, questioned Chisholm’s decision because Flynn felt that Heaggan- Brown was faced with a combat situation. Chisholm responded to Flynn when he addressed reporters by saying that he understands Flynn’s perspective, but he is certain he made the charges based off of facts.

In order to end the disagreement between Flynn and Chisholm, Flynn stated, “a criminal prosecution isn’t the forum in which to send a message. Is there a legitimate issue in terms of police-community relations? No question about it. And nothing exacerbates it more than police-related shootings. But in an individual case I have an ethical obligation to just look at those facts and … not to consider extraneous things like public sentiment. I believe strongly we’ve done a thorough job examining all the facts.” After this statement, Chisholm took it upon himself and told the public that he was not trying to send out a message of police and their use of force and therefore confidently supports the felony charge of reckless homicide against Dominique Heaggan- Brown.

Heaggan- Brown’s bail was set for $100,000 cash on Friday, December 16. Even though bail and jail time seems like enough for Heaggan- Brown, Smith’s cousin, Thaddeous Ashford, strongly believes that the officer did not deserve any bail and that a 60 year maximum sentence is too light for reckless homicide. Ashford said, “He can do 60 years and still have his life in prison … our cousin is still going to be buried”.


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