Compiled by MCJ Staff
Ten Milwaukee Aldermen requested Monday that the office of the U.S. Attorney conduct an investigation into the case of 22-year-old Derek Williams who died last year while in Milwaukee Police Custody.
During a news conference in the City Hall rotunda announcing their request, the aldermen said they sent a letter to James Santelle, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, after they viewed the recently released police dash cam video and in response to calls and emails from citizens who have expressed outrage and anger after seeing the video showing William-his hands handcuffed behind him-struggling to breathe in the back seat of a MPD squad car before passing out and subsequently dying last year.
The video has raised serious questions about how police handled Williams when he was struggling to breathe. An earlier news report noted the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s office, the Milwaukee Police Department, and the Fire and Police Commission had cleared the officers involved in the incident of any wrong doing based on an earlier ruling of natural death by the medical examiner. The coroner reportedly had not seen the video prior to rendering his original decision, nor was he privy to some police reports.
“The changing of the coroner’s determination that Williams died not of natural causes but as a result of homicide has sparked concern and many questions,” said Alderman and Common Council President Willie Hines who was flanked by the aldermen who signed the letter to the U.S. Attorney. “We believe that a U.S. Attorney’s investigation will provide ‘fresh eyes’ and the fresh perspective that is needed to look into this troubling case,” the Council president said.
Hines noted that last year, Alderwoman Milele Coggs and Ald. Willie C. Wade (who were also present at the news conference) brought forth legislation sparked by the Williams case, as well as other deaths in police custody, that directed the city Fire and Police Commission to report to the Common Council biannually, by January 31 and July 31, on new incidents of officer-involved shootings and deaths of citizens in police custody.
The aldermen believe the legislation will provide more accountability and greater transparency in as to the procedures used by the MPD and the Fire and Police Commission’s on process in investigating charges of police misconduct.
“The measure put in place a scheduled reporting of these incidents in order to better investigate the causes and keep all involved aware of procedures for the safe handling of persons in custody,” Hines stressed. “We strongly recommend that the thorough reinvestigation of the coroner’s findings in the Derek Williams case is covered in that report to the Common Council.
Hines, Wade and Coggs, along with Ald. Ashanti Hamilton met with Milwaukee County DA John Chisholm and Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn Tuesday to discuss police procedures when someone is in their custody.
The aldermen also attempted to see if there are other facts available regarding the Williams case, inclusive of the type of information forwarded to the Medical Examiner to establish a thorough case.
According to the aldermen, during Tuesday’s discussion with police chief and district attorney, they demanded Chisholm appoint a special prosecutor to look into the Williams case as quickly as possible.
Hines said the issue is whether there was negligence by the MPD, as well as the need for more accountability.
“The public needs answers,” he said.