Jury Finds Former Milwaukee Police Officer Dominique Heaggan-Brown Not Guilty

Posted June 22, 2017

Dominique Heaggan-Brown was found not guilty during a hearing today over his part in the shooting death of Sylville Smith, 23, who failed to drop his gun during the chase in Milwaukee on August 13 a year ago.

Jurors found that Dominique Heaggan-Brown, who is also black, was justified when he shot 23-year-old Sylville Smith after a brief foot chase following a traffic stop August 13. Body-camera video showed Heaggan-Brown shooting Smith in the arm as he threw his gun over a fence.

Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn, in a statement via Twitter, said, "A year ago I told the public I'd seen nothing in the video that was a violation of the law or policy". Smith was on the ground when he received the fatal shot. The two men fled on foot, the officers gave chase, and Heaggan-Brown shot and killed Smith.

Heaggan-Brown was sacked two months later when he was charged in an unrelated sexual assault case. The sexual assault case wasn't mentioned during the trial because it's being tried separately.

Previously, a 2014 police shooting death of Dontre Hamilton, who is black, prompted protests. The protesters burned eight businesses and a police vehicle and when it was over, 40 demonstrators had been arrested and a handful of officers hurt.

Heaggan-Brown, 25, and two other officers had approached Smith's rental auto because it was parked more than a foot from the curb, and police believed a drug deal was happening.

Heaggan-Brown's attorneys took less than a day before resting their case. Prosecutors argued Smith was defenseless when Heaggan-Brown shot him in the chest because Smith had thrown away his gun.

During the brief foot chase, Smith slipped and fell after turning into a path between two houses.

The trial hinged on whether Dominique Heaggan-Brown acted in self-defense when he killed Sylville Smith or if the former officer is guilty of first-degree reckless homicide or two lesser charges. We can't impute god-like perception to police officers, and the split-second reasonable decision to fire on an armed suspect isn't something that has to be reconsidered with every pull of the trigger.

And all six Baltimore officers charged over the 2015 death of Freddie Gray, due to spinal cord injuries suffered in the back of a police van, were eventually cleared. Yanez testified the motorist, 32-year-old Philando Castile, disregarded his commands not to pull out a handgun Castile had informed him he was carrying.

This version of the story corrects the date of the Smith shooting to August 13 from August 23. The family now plans to file a lawsuit against Heaggan-Brown and the Milwaukee city.

While the officer and the victim in this case were both African American, it was one in a series of fatal shootings of black people across the United States. Heaggan-Brown fired because he feared his life, his defense lawyer said. Attorney Steven R. Kohn is at upper right.

Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn said officers stopped the auto Smith was travelling in on the account he was "behaving suspiciously". The sequestered jury began deliberations at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday after closing arguments, and the news media were told at about 1:45 p.m. Wednesday that a verdict had been reached.