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Former Milwaukee Officer Found Not Guilty In Shooting Death Of Black Man

Former Milwaukee police Officer Dominique Heaggan-Brown appears in Milwaukee County Court on Tuesday.
Michael Sears
Former Milwaukee police Officer Dominique Heaggan-Brown appears in Milwaukee County Court on Tuesday.

Updated at 5:54 p.m. ET

A jury has found a former Milwaukee police officer not guilty of first-degree reckless homicide in the shooting death of Sylville Smith, a 23-year-old black man, last August.

"Cries of outrage" erupted in the courtroom after the verdict was announced, member station WUWM reported.

Dominique Heaggan-Brown, who also is black, was in on patrol when he and another police officer stopped two men. The men ran and the officers gave chase, and Heaggan-Brown shot and killed Smith.

The death sparked riots on Milwaukee's north side, The Two-Way had reported.

After the verdict was announced, Smith's father, Patrick, was quoted by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel as saying, "I want the community to calm down and come together."

Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn was "based on the objective evidence before it." He added that he'd "seen nothing in the [body camera] video that was a violation of the law or policy."

In charging Heaggan-Brown with reckless homicide, WUWM reported, the local district attorney said that "the first shot he fired, hitting Smith in the arm was justified because [Smith] was armed, but not the second shot" that hit him in the torso and killed him.

The complaint states that the deadly encounter started when Heaggan-Brown and the other officer saw a man leaning in through the passenger window of a car with out-of-state license plates, talking to another man. It added that Heaggan-Brown had said in an interview that he thought it "could be consistent with drug activity."

Smith ran into a yard carrying a semi-automatic handgun, according to the complaint. It says police body camera video shows Smith slip to the ground near a chain link fence. He then gets to his feet and throws the gun over the fence.

This is the moment Smith was shot twice — once before, and once after he threw the gun. The time between the two shots was 1.69 seconds. The complaint describes the moment:

"While Smith raises his gun upward, P.O. Heaggan-Brown discharges one shot from his service weapon at Smith and Smith falls to the ground on his back. It was later determined that Heaggan-Brown's first shot struck Smith in his right bicep area with the bullet passing through Smith's bicep and lodging in a window casement to the east of the shooting. After going to the ground, Smith was unarmed.

"The video shows Smith fall to his back, with his legs and arms going up towards his head in what appears to be a half backwards roll. P.O. Heaggan-Brown is observed standing a short distance from Smith with his weapon pointed down at Smith when Heaggan-Brown discharges a second shot from his weapon at what appears to be Smith's chest. After the second shot, Smith's arms and legs are still moving and he appears to bring his left hand toward his waistband. A review of the body camera video from both Heaggan-Brown and [Officer] Malafa confirms that at the time of the second shot, Smith was unarmed and had his hands near his head."

During the trial, Heaggan-Brown's lawyer told the jury that the "first shot was a justifiable shot and that justification did not change in 1.69 seconds," The Associated Press reported.

The defense team also "argued that Heaggan-Brown was following officer training in ending a threat, and that the former officer could not know whether Smith had another weapon," WUWM added.

Heaggan-Brown was fired from the Milwaukee Police Department in October in which he is facing charges of sexual assault, according to the Journal Sentinel.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Merrit Kennedy
Merrit Kennedy is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers a broad range of issues, from the latest developments out of the Middle East to science research news.