The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan testified today before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) about the failure of the U.S. Justice Department to prosecute officers involved in the unjustified police shooting death of Milton Hall in Saginaw, Michigan.
On July 1, 2012, Saginaw police officers shot and killed Hall, a 49-year-old African American man struggling with homelessness and mental illness. During a short stand-off, a police dog began snarling and lunging at Hall, prompting the man to produce a small pocketknife to defend himself. When Hall turned toward the dog, he was cut down in a fusillade of police gunfire. Officers fired over 45 shots at Hall, though video footage shows that Hall was standing a significant distance away from officers.
“It’s been devastating to our family; it was devastating to the community. And justice still has not been served,” said Jewel Hall, Milton Hall’s mother, in a video statement shown at the hearing. “There needs to be a change in how police deal with situations like the one that ended my son’s life. Our leaders have to address conditions that allow police to use excessive and deadly force with impunity.”
As part of the testimony, the ACLU of Michigan showed a disturbing video of the killing, which shows that all shots were fired within a matter of seconds, and even after Hall collapsed, police continued to fire, striking him a reported 14 times.
Presented by ACLU of Michigan Racial Justice Project attorney Mark Fancher, the testimony at the IACHR hearing on “Reports of Racism in the Justice System of the United States” focused on the controversial decision by the U.S. Justice Department not to charge any of the officers responsible for the 2012 killing.
In March 2014, the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice declined to file federal charges against the Saginaw police officers who shot and killed Milton Hall because they claimed “this tragic event does not present sufficient evidence of willful misconduct to lead to a federal criminal prosecution.” To prosecute the officers, it is necessary to prove not only that Hall’s Fourth Amendment rights were violated by the use of excessive force, but also that the officers “willfully” set out to deprive him of those rights.
“As a civilian, Mr. Hall had every right to expect that the police would protect his life, but instead, he was the target of what resembled in many ways a firing squad,” says ACLU of Michigan Racial Justice Project attorney Mark Fancher, who testified today at the IACHR hearing on “Reports of Racism in the Justice System of the United States. “The government cannot act as if the life of a homeless black man has no value. Saginaw deserves justice not only for Milton Hall, but for the entire community that has been devastated by this inexplicable act of police violence.”
The ACLU of Michigan testified that disagrees with the DOJ’s decision not to prosecute, citing Supreme Court precedent indicating that an officer “recklessly disregarding” a person’s rights can meet the “willfulness” standard regardless of the officer’s frame of mind, calling for an expanded investigation into the practices of the Saginaw police and citing worries about an apparent pattern of racial profiling.