Decision on Charges in Dontre Hamilton Case Expected Soon
The Milwaukee County District Attorney says he’ll issue a decision soon in the Dontre Hamilton case.
A Milwaukee police officer shot Hamilton to death in April in Red Arrow Park. The 31-year-old suffered from schizophrenia.
Officer Christopher Manney says Hamilton became combative during a pat down and struck the officer with his police baton. The police chief has since fired Manney for failing to follow protocol leading up to the shooting. People have compared the Milwaukee incident to the police killing of an unarmed black man in Ferguson, Missouri.
Hamilton’s family has been waiting months to hear whether District Attorney John Chisholm will file charges against the former officer. Chisholm says he's waiting for one final report before announcing his decision.
"The delay is related to one issue and one issue only and that is, I need an outside expert to take a look at the sole issue of whether the use of force was privileged, justified and appropriate based on the officer’s training and experience. That’s it," Chisholm says. "And once I have that I’m certainly going to make a decision. Certainly [the expert’s opinion] is going to heavily influence the decision over whether I issue criminal charges or determine that it’s not a chargeable criminal offense."
Chisholm says once he's ready to announce his decision, he'll meet first with the family of Dontre Hamilton.
"And the practice in this office has always been – unlike a secret grand jury or anything like that – is we show them everything we’ve got and they have attorneys that represent them," he says. "They’re allowed to see the police reports and anything related to the investigation that we have. And I do that for the specific purpose of not hiding any balls. There is nothing to hide here and certainly I want it to become public as soon as it possibly can, but I have to get that assessment done."
The DA says his decision on whether to charge former Officer Christopher Manney will be based on the facts of the case and expert opinions.
"That doesn’t just rely on the use-of-force expert, that also includes medical examiners, other law enforcement professionals, legal professionals. So the most important thing is to get it right - to have an objectively defensible position that can be put out in public and people understand. That’s ultimately my obligation," Chisholm says.
"My obligation is not to make people happy with any decision I make," he says. "That’s one of the unique roles of a prosecutor is to make a decision based on the facts, the law and their ethical obligation not to charge cases unless they can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt."
Chisholm says he hopes the community reaction to his decision on charges will be constructive.
"Every case is unique and every community is unique. I believe that the community here has engaged in this issue in a very thoughtful way," he says. "There’s an awful lot going on in this community to discuss the issues that don’t get a lot of attention. We spend a lot of time through our community prosecution program talking to people about what we do and why we do it and how we do it. We’ve had very thoughtful engagements as a community with the Community Justice Council discussing issues related to race in the criminal justice system. We’ve had internal discussions. We closed down the entire system about a month ago and had a facilitated discussion on race in the criminal justice system. You’ve seen public discussions on the interaction between the community and law enforcement and the court system."
"So this is something that we’re engaged in every day. So I anticipate we’re going to deal with this in a hopefully a very productive way. There will obviously be dissenting opinions no matter what. There is in every case," Chisholm adds.