Bruce Murphy
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Sylville Smith’s Killer Charged With Sex Assault

Officer Dominique Heaggan-Brown's fatal shooting of Smith had set off near-riot in city.

By - Oct 20th, 2016 12:26 pm
Gas station at Sherman and Burleigh was set on fire. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Gas station at Sherman and Burleigh was set on fire. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

The Washington Post is among many publications who have jumped on the news that Dominique Heaggan-Brown, the officer who fatally shot Sylville Smith in August has been arrested. The shooting set off an eruption of violent unrest in Milwaukee that generated global media coverage.

The arrest is the result of “a report of sexual assault that came in as those demonstrations were still ongoing,” the Post reported. “Heaggan-Brown was arrested on Wednesday night following a police investigation that ended with the Milwaukee County district attorney filing a criminal complaint including multiple charges, the department said in a statement.”

“The department did not release a summary of the charges and a spokesman for the police did not immediately respond to a request for comment,” the story continued. “No complaint was filed in court records Thursday morning; the district attorney’s office said it was expected to be filed sometime later in the day.”

According to the statement, it was a male victim who “reported to Milwaukee Police he had been sexually assaulted by Heaggan-Brown while the officer was off-duty,” the story noted. “Officials did not specify the age of this person. This person came forward on Aug. 15, while the city was still reeling after authorities said Heaggan-Brown fatally shot Sylville K. Smith, 23, following a traffic stop two days earlier.”

According to the criminal complaint against Heaggan-Brown, as the Journal Sentinel has reported, “A man said he met Heaggan-Brown through Facebook in July because he was looking for another musician to help with his music. Heaggan-Brown is a rapper.” After the two exchanged text messages, they agreed to meet at a bar, where they had drinks. “The man told police he had trouble remembering what happened after he left the bar with Heaggan-Brown but said he remembered waking up to Heaggan-Brown raping him… The man said he felt drugged during the assault… Heaggan-Brown said he and the man had been at the bar and when the man began to act ‘weird and unresponsive,’ he brought the man to the hospital.”

Not long after that, Heaggan-Brown sent a text to a Milwaukee police sergeant, “whom Heaggan-Brown considered a mentor,” the complain noted, that read: “Not so good. Got a separate situation. Need your help big time… (Expletive) up big time… But need to handle this the most secret and right way possible.”

Heaggan-Brown has been suspended by the department and remains in custody.

The arrest is likely to re-ignite the controversy — and many questions raised — over Smith’s killing. Residents of the Sherman Park neighborhood where the shooting took place had said Heaggan-Brown knew Smith since high school, with some suggesting the two had been competitive or antagonistic toward each other.

“Heaggan-Brown, 24, joined the police department in July 2010 as an aide,” the Chicago Tribune reported. “Like Smith, Heaggan-Brown he is black. He was assigned to patrol the city’s heavily minority north side.”

Smith, meanwhile, “had been in trouble with the law dating back at least to 2011, according to arrest records released by the Milwaukee County Sheriff‘s Office,” as the Journal Sentinel has reported. “He was arrested or ticketed nine times in that period — for the shooting, a robbery, carrying a concealed weapon, theft, possession of heroin and more. His most recent arrest was July 22 for possession of cocaine, records show.”

In response to Smith’s killing, angry neighborhood residents engaged in two nights of violence in which buildings were set on fire, officers were injured and one man was shot. Some charged that Smith was unarmed and shot in the back.

Both Police Chief Edward Flynn and Mayor Tom Barrett have insisted the body camera video of the shooting shows Smith held a gun when he was shot, though Flynn has conceded the video is not as clear cut as he might like. He said the shooting “certainly appeared to be within lawful bounds,” but added this caveat: “I’m looking at a silent movie that doesn’t necessarily tell me everything that will come out in a thorough investigation. You know the fog of war.”

In the meantime the state investigation of Smith’s shooting by the state Department of Justice has still not been concluded and the body camera video of the shooting has yet to be shared with the public. Observers have suggested the department could have a conflict of interest because retired members of the Milwaukee police department are conducting the investigation.

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