MILWAUKEE (CN) — The family of Dontre Hamilton, the unarmed, mentally ill black man who was fatally shot 14 times by a police officer, has filed a federal civil rights complaint.
They say the Milwaukee Police Department initially dispatched officers to Red Arrow Park, where 31-year-old Hamilton was sleeping on April 30, 2014, for a welfare check.
A pair of officers checked on Hamilton twice that afternoon, but the interactions ended without incident, according to the complaint filed Wednesday by Hamilton's mother and son. They say the officers determined that Hamilton was "not doing anything wrong," and informed the Starbucks employees who kept summoning them of the same, saying Hamilton could remain the park as he was not disturbing anyone.
Christopher Manney, the officer who killed Hamilton, made his way to the park over an hour later, according to to the complaint. Hamilton's family says the officer informed dispatch that he was responding to a call about "trouble with a suspect," as opposed to the two prior dispatch communiques about welfare checks.
Manney did so, the complaint continues, despite having already confirmed with dispatch that there were no pending assignments at Red Arrow Park.
Hamilton complied with Manney's order for him to stand up, his family says, and the officer then began frisking Hamilton, despite having no reason to suspect Hamilton was armed or had committed a crime.
"An altercation ensued" during the pat-down, however, and Manney began using his police baton to "strike" Hamilton, according to the complaint.
When Hamilton got ahold of the baton, the complaint, Manney backed away.
"So, you want to fight," Manney said, as quoted in the complaint, which notes that the officer then shot Hamilton 14 times.
One of the bullets went into Hamilton's back. He died that day.
Though the brass fired Manney within six months, Hamilton's family notes that the former officer has not faced criminal civil rights charges, either federally or on a state level.
The Department of Justice started a review of the Milwaukee Police Department in December 2015.
Hamilton's family notes that Milwaukee investigators conducted "essentially the entire investigation," deciding who to interview and what to photograph, even though the Wisconsin Legislature passed a law one week before Hamilton's death that requires two outside authorities to investigate officer-involved deaths.
The Michael Bell Law, as it is known, was passed in response to the fatal police shooting 10 years earlier of an unarmed 21-year-old by that name.
Just today, one day after the Hamilton family filed their lawsuit, Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel announced a new division of the state Justice Department dedicated to managing officer-involved death investigations.
The Bureau of Special Investigations, a four-person division of the Division of Criminal Investigation, will also be responsible for managing "public records compliance" within the division.
Hamilton's family brought their lawsuit against the city and Manney.
"There is a long, tragic history of a widespread pattern of constitutional violations committed by MPD officers," the 46-page complaint states.
The family condemns the MPD's failure to train officers, evaluate their emotional stability and mete out discipline when violations occur.
Manney, hired in 2001, was allegedly among officers whom the MPD did not require to undergo complete psychological testing.
Hamilton's family says there is "a belief among MPD officers that they can commit constitutional rights violations without ever facing consequences for their misconduct."
A "code of silence," wherein officers refuse to report misconduct by comrades, has also hampered past investigations, and the city has done little to address it, the complaint states.
Hamilton's family says officers who honored this code and refused to cooperate with past police-brutality investigations have since been promoted, becoming detectives and sergeants.
Michael Vagnini, a name that has become synonymous with Milwaukee police misconduct, was sentenced to 26 months in prison on sexual-assault charges for his involvement in dozens of illegal strip searches.
An investigation showed that Vagnini, along with a team of other officers, unlawfully detained mostly black men and conducted public cavity and genital searches without probable cause.
The city has authorized a $5 million conditional settlement for the victims.
Hamilton's family brought their lawsuit with the two-year anniversary of his death days away. In the years since, the family has staged multiple sit-ins, protests and marches across the country with a host of supporters.
Coalition for Justice, a group started by Dontre's brother Nate Hamilton, will host the second annual Dontre Day this Saturday in Red Arrow Park.
Hamilton's mother, Maria Hamilton, is the representative of Dontre's estate in Milwaukee. She, along with her two sons, appeared with attorney Jonathan Safran of Samster, Konkel & Safran SC in a video press conference Wednesday.
"Murder is murder," she told the gathered reporters. "I will never stop fighting and trying to change the legislation and laws, and have all of these cases reopened at some point."
A representative for the Milwaukee Police Department declined to comment on the lawsuit.
The MPD fired Manney over his failure to follow police procedure in frisking Hamilton, but Manney is still challenging his termination, which multiple authorities have upheld.
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