Bruce Murphy
Back in the News

Chisholm Decision Triggers Controversy

DA decides not to charge officer who killed mentally ill man, leaving community divided over issue.

By - Dec 22nd, 2014 01:52 pm
Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm

Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm

Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm announced this morning that he will not charge former officer Christopher Manney for the fatal shooting of Dontre Hamilton in Red Arrow Park last April, and released a 25-page report plus various appendixes explaining the reasoning behind his decision.

“This was a tragic incident for the Hamilton family and for the community,” Chisholm wrote. “But, based on all the evidence and analysis presented in this report, I come to the conclusion that Officer Manney’s use of force in this incident was justified self-defense.”

The shooting occurred during an incident that began when workers at the nearby Starbucks cafe called police to complain about Hamilton sleeping in the downtown park. As Manney began to pat the man down, Hamilton fought him, and Manney tried to use his baton to subdue Hamilton. Hamilton, however, got control of it and swung the baton at Manney, hitting him on the side of the neck, according to Milwaukee police internal affairs.

Manney then shot Hamilton 14 times. Police Chief Ed Flynn fired Manney in October — not for using excessive force, but because he did not follow department rules in how he handled the situation. That decision was criticized by members of the police union.

Members of Hamilton’s family have condemned Chisholm’s decision and one of the attorneys representing Hamilton’s family told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel he is asking for a federal investigation to determine if federal charges are warranted against Manney.

Others condemning the decision include Congresswoman Gwen Moore, Milwaukee County Supervisor David Bowen and the ACLU of Wisconsin.

Those defending the decision include alderman and mayoral candidate Bob Donovan.

The weekly Shepherd Express offered a defense of a kind to Chisholm last week, with a long, cover-story Q and A that basically gave the DA a chance to explain at great length how careful he was being, and how hard it is to successfully prosecute a case of police misconduct. Shepherd owner, publisher and editor Louis Fortis conducted the interview along with reporter Lisa Kaiser.

7 thoughts on “Back in the News: Chisholm Decision Triggers Controversy”

  1. PMD says:

    What would be considered excessive force? I’m not a police officer or any kind of law enforcement professional, but to me, 14 shots (and one apparently in the back according to at least one report I read) sure sounds like excessive force. It seems like it’s damn near impossible for a police officer to be charged with a shooting-related crime.

  2. Tyrell Track Master says:

    This stuff continues to amaze me. I am not a cop hater, but this was an execution, plain and simple. You don’t shoot someone 14 times unless you have decided “This guy shall now die”. That is what happened.

    Was this guy so much of a threat that he needed to be executed on the spot? According the cops, that seems to be the case!

  3. Eleanor Harris says:

    Read the report from Chisholm linked in the article above. It contains many eye-witness reports. It is very readable to a non-legally trained person. The way the laws are written Chisholm had no other option. The law says if the suspect (Manning) followed his police training in the specific situation he is in, it will not be considered excessive force. They are trained to continue shooting until the “threatening person” is down. The use of fourteen bullets certainly seems excessive to me but Chisholm was required to rule according to the force used consistent with his training (among other things).

    What we need to agitate for is the training promised again for every officer in dealing with those with mental health issues (Manning admits he thought Hamilton may have had a mental illness) which is all about de-escalation instead of force. This was promised by the police chief before Flynn but it was never carried out for the entire force.

    The question that cannot be proven in this case is whether or not a scuffle would have occurred if Manning had not patted Hamilton down. In Hamilton’s state of paranoia, this was the worst thing Manning could have done. It was also illegal and, fortunately, Flynn fired him because of that. According to almost every eye-witness, Hamilton became threatening and once that happens, the law says that you are entitled to self-defense and police training says you shoot until the person is down.

    So, the most effective work we can do at this time, IMHO, is to support the federal investigation of the police department itself. While it is also almost impossible to find any one officer violating civil rights, unless they have been heard to explicitly state racist intentions, police departments can be found to be violating civil rights because of diverse and unfair impact of their policies or actions on specific communities–African American men as compared to White violaters, for example.

    So going after Manning or Chisholm is not going to get what we want and need in this city. Chisholm has done a lot, by the way, to create and support alternatives to incarceration, which adversely effects African American men, like the drug court and sentencing for treatment and, if successful, resulting in no criminal record, ect, and has been honored by African American organizations for this work.

    We have to work to dismantle institutional racism and the causes of violence in African American communities like poverty, joblessness, over-incarceration, etc, etc, etc.

  4. PMD says:

    Those are some good points Eleanor, but I still have questions about all this. Is it true that one of the bullets entered his back? I know that’s something the Hamilton family reported, but I don’t know if it’s true. If it is true, doesn’t it contradict the contention that he felt his life was in danger and therefore fired repeatedly?

    I know officers were fired for conducting body cavity searches, but are officers routinely fired for conducting illegal pat downs?

    Do you feel like this was a truly independent investigation? Chisholm works very closely with the police, like all DAs, and the outside group that helped investigate is comprised of ex-police officers. Is there a better way to ensure that a truly independent investigation is conducted, or was it as close as we’re ever going to get to an independent investigation?

  5. Andy says:

    PMD, if you have an opportunity to watch Chisholm’s press conference he explains many of the details you’re asking about. I too was skeptical about this one, but after watching that and reading his report I’m pretty well convinced that his decision not to charge the officer was the right call.

  6. PMD says:

    Right call because nothing criminal took place, or because Chisholm couldn’t prove it in court? And was the officer wrongly terminated then? Or are officers routinely fired for conducting an illegal pat-down?

  7. Andy says:

    Right call because nothing criminal took place. He may indeed have been wrongfully terminated, but I’m not sure. Your question on whether officers are normally fired for frisking someone who is mentally ill is a good question. Remember though, he broke policy not law when he conducting the pat-down.

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