The family of a black Milwaukee man who was fatally shot by a white police officer in April said Tuesday they are hopeful the officer will be charged, after the Justice Department announced it will review the case for civil rights violations.
The Justice Department announcement comes after Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm said Monday that his office would not charge Officer Christopher Manney in connection with the killing of Dontre Hamilton.
Dontre Hamilton's brother, Nate Hamilton, said the family hopes federal investigators can take a more objective look at the case than Milwaukee authorities and weigh all the evidence. The state Division of Criminal Investigation led the review of the case, and Nate Hamilton said the family thinks that agency works too closely with Milwaukee police to be impartial.
"I think we'll get a better look. I want to be confident in it, but, right now, I cannot put my trust in the system," he said.
Manney's attorney did not return a message seeking comment about the federal review. Manney is at least the third white police officer in the United States to avoid charges in the past month after confrontations that led to the deaths of black men. In November, a grand jury decided not to indict Darren Wilson, the white officer who in August fatally shot unarmed black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Also, a Staten Island grand jury decided in December not to charge Daniel Pantaleo, a white police officer, in the death of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man selling untaxed cigarettes in New York. The two rulings sparked mass protests across the nation against what activists call police brutality, particularly against black communities.
In the Milwaukee case, Manney shot 31-year-old Hamilton in April after responding to a report of a man sleeping in a downtown park. Hamilton's family said Hamilton suffered from schizophrenia and had recently stopped taking his medication. Manney said Hamilton resisted when he tried to frisk him. The two exchanged punches before Hamilton got hold of Manney's baton and hit him on the neck, the former officer has said.
Several witnesses told police they saw Hamilton holding Manney's baton aggressively before Manney shot him 14 times, according to Chisholm's report. Police said they have no video of the incident, but Chisholm's report said Manney suffered minor injuries, including a bite to his right thumb, a neck strain and a neck contusion. He was treated for post-concussion syndromes, a mild traumatic brain injury and had physical therapy for bicep and rotator cuff injuries.
Police Chief Edward Flynn fired Manney in October, saying the officer correctly identified Hamilton as mentally ill but ignored department policy and treated him as a criminal by frisking him. Manney is appealing. Meanwhile, tension mounted ahead of Chisholm's decision, fueled by anger over the police killings of Brown and Garner.
Chisholm said use-of-force experts concluded that Manney's conduct was justified. Emanuel Kapelsohn, president of the Peregrine Corp., firearms and use of force training consultants, told Chisholm that all the shots were fired in 3 or 4 seconds and there was no evidence that Manney continued firing after Hamilton hit the ground.
Chisholm said at a news conference Monday that his job wasn't to evaluate whether Manney adhered to policy but whether he applied the correct amount of force in that situation. He said witnesses reported that Manney gave Hamilton verbal commands to stop.
"On a human level, of course, it's tragic," Chisholm said. "(But) our job is not to tell people necessarily what they want to hear."
Protests have been held in Milwaukee since the incident occurred. On Friday, 74 people were taken into custody after an evening demonstration spilled onto a highway and stopped rush hour traffic.
"This is a fight that we are going to endure. We are going to stay strong," Hamilton said during a press conference Monday.
"We need to stop the violence in our communities so we can get rid of these pigs that kill us," Hamilton said to applause. "Because that's what they are. They feed, they feed off of us. And we can't let them do that no more."
His remarks came just two days after two New York City police officers were killed in an ambush. Police said that attack was carried out by a man who posted online about putting "wings on pigs."
Police Chief Flynn said he was disturbed by Hamilton's choice of words. Hamilton family attorney Jon Safran later said that the slain man's brother didn't condone "any type of violence," and that the family was dealing with "great anxiety and frustration."
Al Jazeera and wire services