As previously reported here, Milwaukee Police Department (“MPD”) Officer Christopher Manney shot and killed 31-year-old Dontre Hamilton at Milwaukee’s Red Arrow Park on April 30, 2014. The investigation into this tragic event was the first test of a new Wisconsin law where law enforcement agencies cannot investigate themselves after a death in police custody. Instead, a team of at least two investigators from an outside agency is supposed investigate in-custody deaths. It seems, however, that the law was not followed in the Dontre Hamilton investigation. Although the Wisconsin Department of Justice (“DOJ”) was supposed to lead the investigation, the Milwaukee Police Department (“MPD”) did most of the investigating, with the DOJ simply reviewing the MPD reports. In addition, about half of the agents and one of the supervisors leading the DOJ efforts had long prior careers with the MPD.
Now there is an effort to make changes to the law to ensure that investigations into police-involved deaths are truly independent. State Representative Chris Taylor (D-Madison) is proposing two bills, one that would require the outside investigators and their immediate families to not have worked for the law enforcement agency involved for ten years, and another that would require the appointment of a special prosecutor who would determine whether criminal charges should be filed against the officer involved.
The Milwaukee civil rights lawyers of Samster, Konkel & Safran, S.C. are part of the legal team which represents the family of Dontre Hamilton. SKS Attorney Jonathan S. Safran, who has called for police-involved deaths to be investigated by an independent oversight board or the United States Department of Justice, expressed some optimism about the proposed bills. “They’re baby steps, but they’re at least going in the right direction,” Attorney Safran said.
We will continue to work for justice for Dontre Hamilton and his family. Please continue to follow our Blog for updates on the case.