June 15, 2012
First and foremost, the loss of another young African-American male, or anyone else for that matter, in our city through violence is a tragedy. The person who committed this act has been charged with first degree intentional homicide which is the highest grade murder charge in Wisconsin and, if convicted, would likely be sentenced to life in prison, which is the steepest sentence available in this State. At this point, ensuring a vigorous and successful prosecution, obtaining a conviction and setting an appropriate sentence are the main priorities.
The circumstances surrounding the killing of the 13 year old and the manner in which Milwaukee Police Department officers and detectives handled the initial investigation have raised additional concerns that are festering and being discussed throughout our community. While the details of some of these concerns are specific to this case, they more broadly reflect a perception of a considerable segment of Milwaukeeans (particularly African-Americans and other persons of color) about being afforded respect, dignity and fair treatment by law enforcement.
We appreciate the fact that Chief Flynn met with several “community leaders,” including myself, to provide information pertaining to the activities and tactics employed by MPD during the investigation. This included an explanation of the reasons why Darius’ mother and brother were immediately separated by police upon their arrival at the crime scene and interrogated in separate vehicles, why the victim’s home was searched and why the victim’s brother was arrested for outstanding warrants. These actions were described as standard “protocols,” and the police rationale for these actions have been offered to support the police making an immediate “clean arrest” and as reasons necessary to strengthen the basis for a successful prosecution in this matter.
However, we respectfully disagree with the Chief’s statement that “six months from now, when our detectives are on the witness stand, no one’s going to care how compassionate they were at the scene.” We believe that it always matters that people believe that, in interacting with the police, they will be treated with dignity and respect.
In our view, the troubling circumstances surrounding the murder of Darius Simmons and the investigation of the crime scene should not serve to further divide the community or “drive a wedge” between the community and the Police Department. Rather, this should be used as an opportunity to review and examine protocols and tactics used by police in this matter, along with the current investigations and examinations of other police activities. In all instances, any practices found to be lacking should be changed and improved. The failure to do so, along with the failure to clearly communicate to the community that it has been done, will tend to erode community trust, confidence and cooperation with the police.
Mayor Barrett and Fire and Police Commission Director, Mike Tobin, stated during a meeting on June 8th with community representatives and several elected officials that a Fire and Police Commission meeting will be specifically scheduled to provide an opportunity for the community to discuss this matter and other related concerns. It is important that this meeting occur.
Turning from the investigation to the prosecution, we have met with District Attorney John Chisholm regarding this matter. He and Assistant D.A. Denis Stingl have assured the family that the first degree intentional homicide charge will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. It is unlikely that a “hate crime enhancer” will be added, primarily due to the fact that it would not add anything to the prosecution, since the maximum penalty of life in prison is already being sought. The District Attorney has also stated that any attempt by the defense to apply or seek to expand the “castle doctrine” in this case will be vigorously opposed and will be unlikely to succeed.
We will continue to support the family throughout this trial and to seek opportunities to work constructively with MPD and the community to improve police/community relations.
James H. Hall, Jr., President
NAACP Milwaukee Branch