Former Milwaukee police officer Dominique Heaggan-Brown, who fatally shot Sylville Smith during an August 2016 foot chase, was found not guilty of first-degree reckless homicide on Wednesday (June 21). Prosecutors contend Smith was defenseless when Heaggan-Brown shot him in the chest because Smith had thrown his gun over a fence.
"Heaggan-Brown fired once at which time he observed the pistol fly out of Smith's hands and over the fence into the backyard of the residence", a criminal complaint states. Prosecution argued that the second shot was unnecessary because Smith had tossed his gun away by that point.
Smith's death brought to the surface long-simmering tensions between black Milwaukee residents and police, and demonstrators assembled near the site of the shooting in Sherman Park hours after it happened. The crimes are not connected to Smith's death, but they are the reason he was sacked from the Milwaukee police force. "And our argument is that justification did not change over the course of 1.69 seconds between shots", defense attorney Jonathan Smith told the jury. He faced up to 60 years in prison if he had been convicted. The sexual assault case wasn't mentioned during the trial because it's being tried separately.
"He knew that Sylville Smith was attempting to surrender". P.O. Heaggan-Brown is observed standing a short distance from Smith with his weapon pointed down at Smith when Heaggan-Brown discharges a second shot from his weapon at what appears to be Smith's chest.
Smith's grieving family accused Heaggan-Brown of having a "personal vendetta" against Smith, claiming that the two knew each other from high school. A police expert in the use of deadly force says on Monday that Heaggan-Brown, on trial for fatally shooting a black man after a foot chase "acted in accordance with his training". He said it had become clear since the shooting that Heaggan-Brown never should have been on the force. He testified the officer's decision to fire again was made before he even pulled the trigger.
News of Dominique Heaggan-Brown's acquittal has sparked plenty of reactions on Twitter. Heaggan-Brown fired the first shot nearly simultaneously with Smith throwing away his gun when he got up. According to Fox6, jurors also had the option to pick from two lesser charges instead of first-degree reckless homicide.
The 12-member jury included four African-Americans.