In one of the most highly anticipated legal decisions in recent memory, Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm announced Monday that former Milwaukee police officer Christopher Manney will not be charged in the fatal shooting of Dontre Hamilton at Red Arrow Park.
Chisholm determined that Manney’s use of force was justified self-defense.
Hamilton’s family has repeatedly called for Manney, who has since been fired, to face criminal charges.
Speaking to supporters outside the federal courthouse in Milwaukee, Hamilton’s brother Nathaniel said he and the other family members would not waver in their determination.
“We deserve justice,” he said. “Justice is our right.”
U.S. Attorney James Santelle confirmed Monday afternoon that the U.S. Department of Justice will undertake a federal review of the case.
The FBI and U.S. attorney’s office already have the investigative materials, Chisholm said.
“We were informed that they were conducting their own review, but they can give us no timeline for when they’ll come to their decision,” Chisholm said. “As I said, I anticipate the venue will move from the state level to the federal level next.”
Manney shot Hamilton 14 times on April 30 during a confrontation at Red Arrow Park.
Before the encounter, a pair of officers responding to a call that Hamilton was asleep in the park checked on him twice and found he was doing nothing wrong. When Manney arrived, he was not aware that other officers had preceded him.
As Manney began to pat down Hamilton, Hamilton fought him, and a confrontation ensued. Manney tried to use his baton to subdue Hamilton, but Hamilton got control of it and swung at Manney, hitting him on the side of the neck, according to Milwaukee police internal affairs.
Manney then shot Hamilton repeatedly.
After the shooting, family members and their supporters regularly rallied at Red Arrow Park, protesting the treatment of black men by white police officers.
Police Chief Edward Flynn fired Manney in October — not for using excessive force, but because he did not follow department rules in the moments leading up to the shooting.
Reacting Monday to the district attorney’s decision, Flynn said it was clear that Chisholm “put an extraordinary amount of thought into it” and came to a decision “deeply rooted in law and precedent.”
In making his decision, Chisholm relied on reports from the state’s Division of Criminal Investigation — serving as the outside investigator as required under state law — and Emanuel Kapelsohn of the Peregrine Corp., whom Chisholm cited as a leading national expert in use-of-force reviews.
At a news conference Monday, Chisholm acknowledged questions about the independence of the state’s Division of Criminal Investigation, because the lead agents involved are former Milwaukee police officers. He said it was his opinion they were “completely independent and professional,” and added that he did not ask state investigators for an opinion on the use of force, but rather only the investigative report.
The Milwaukee County district attorney’s office received the state’s report on Aug. 8, and the Kapelsohn report on Wednesday.
The investigation, including hiring the outside expert, cost about $20,000, Chisholm said.
More details released
Concurrent with Chisholm’s announcement, DCI released its investigative documents and materials in Madison. They provide slightly more detail about what Manney says happened.
The information was contained in the Milwaukee police report and an interview Manney gave to authorities, including the district attorney. That interview was not recorded.
Manney described arriving on the scene, where he found Hamilton lying on the ground, with his eyes open and a leg shaking. Manney said Hamilton stood up, and as Manney patted him down he felt a hard cylindrical object in Hamilton’s waist band and another hard object in Hamilton’s pocket.
According to Manney, Hamilton trapped his arms. When he freed himself, Manney said, Hamilton looked at him with a “1000-yard stare.”
The two men fought, and Manney said he used his baton to strike Hamilton, but Hamilton trapped the baton with his arm, grabbed it and then struck the officer. Manney said he attempted to push Hamilton away to create distance. Manney said he thought Hamilton was growing stronger, reaching the point of “super human strength.”
When Manney finally got his firearm, he said, he walked backward. Hamilton continued to advance.
Manney said he gripped his pistol with two hands and fired, striking Hamilton in the chest. Hamilton kept coming forward.
Manney continued to fire until Hamilton fell to the pavement; he recalled it was as if he was “shooting a BB gun.”
He radioed in: “Shots fired, officer-involved. Guy started beating me, started beating me, grabbed my baton, was going to hit me in the head with my own baton.”
No weapons were found in Hamilton’s pockets.
In days after the shooting, police officials highlighted Hamilton’s history of mental illness and said the mental health system failed him. Hamilton’s family has said he received treatment for schizophrenia but was not violent.
Since then, Hamilton’s family members worked with Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, the Police Department and other city leaders to have all officers receive Crisis Intervention Team training, considered the gold standard for working with people in psychiatric crisis, by 2017.
Manney did not have such training, which emphasizes de-escalating confrontations with people who have mental illness.
The 25-page report released Monday by Chisholm said Manney acted in self-defense because at the time the fatal shots were fired Hamilton had grabbed Manney’s baton and had hit him in the neck with it.
Police officers are held to the same self-defense standard under state law as anyone else. The key is whether an individual believed that his or her life was in immediate danger and that deadly force was necessary.
Under self-defense guidelines, even if it turns out there was no real threat, a self-defense claim could still be viable if that person actually believed he or she was in danger.
Manney said he did believe his life was in danger. He also told Chisholm and other state investigators that after Hamilton hit him once on the neck with the baton, he drew his gun and Hamilton continued to approach.
Manney said “he feared Hamilton would attack him with the baton and that he ‘would be dead’ as a result,” according to Chisholm’s report. Manney released medical records to the district attorney’s office that showed he had a small cut to his thumb, a right neck strain and a bruise on the right side of his neck.
Later, Manney was treated for “post-concussion syndromes and mild traumatic brain injury as well as physical therapy for bicep and rotator cuff injuries,” the district attorney’s report states.
Kapelsohn, one of the experts used by Chisholm, concluded that there can be “little serious doubt” that Manney was justified in shooting Hamilton.
“The more difficult issue is whether P.O. Manney fired more shots than necessary, or continued firing after he could reasonably perceive that Hamilton was clearly no longer a threat,” Kapelsohn’s report said. The report then notes that Milwaukee police, like nearly all officers in America, are trained to fire “to stop the threat.”
The shots fired by Manney would have taken place in three to four seconds, while a demonstration on a training range showed 14 shots being fired in 2.99 seconds, the district attorney’s report showed.
Seventeen witnesses reported they observed Manney “in shock,” “upset” or “distraught” immediately after the shooting.
Unrest within department
Earlier this year, proponents of the new Wisconsin law to require outside investigations of deaths in police custody researched officer-involved deaths around the state. They found only one in which an on-duty fatal shooting — in Sauk County in 1986 — was not deemed justified.
Manney is believed to be the first officer in Milwaukee fired as a result of a fatal on-duty shooting in at least 45 years.
He has appealed his termination to the city’s Fire and Police Commission. The date of the appeal hearing has yet to be set.
Manney also has applied for duty disability, saying the Red Arrow Park shooting and its aftermath resulted in severe post-traumatic stress disorder.
He joins a growing number of officers suspected of misconduct who have applied for duty disability claiming debilitating stress, sometimes even citing the department’s investigation or media coverage as the cause of that stress.
If approved, Manney’s retirement — it would include about 75% of his salary, tax-free — would take precedence over his dismissal because he applied two days before he was fired.
The decision to fire Manney stirred unrest among the department’s rank and file. Shortly after Manney’s firing, the Milwaukee Police Association convened a no-confidence vote. Of the union members who voted, nearly all indicated they had no confidence in Flynn. The union has not disclosed the exact number of voters but said it was a majority of the roughly 1,600 membership.
The union’s president, Mike Crivello, released a statement Monday that said, in part, the union “respects and concurs with the decision of the District Attorney’s Office.”
Source: Ashley Luthern/ Jsonline