Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

Sparks Fly Over Hamilton Settlement

Council approves $2.3 million settlement, but black aldermen debate Donovan.

By - May 31st, 2017 06:25 pm
Dontre Hamilton

Dontre Hamilton

It’s official. The Milwaukee Common Council voted today to authorize the City Attorney to finalize a $2.3 million settlement between the family of Dontre Hamilton and the city. But the vote came only after a charged exchange of views between Ald. Bob Donovan and four African American members of the council.

The settlement comes a little over three years after Hamilton was killed by Milwaukee Police Department officer Christopher Manney in Red Arrow Park just north of Milwaukee City Hall.

In a letter to the council, City Attorney Grant Langley noted that the city has already lost the first step of the Hamilton family’s lawsuit against the city via a summary judgement at Federal District Court. Langley added that his office is appealing the matter, but recommended the settlement “given the risks of further litigation and its increasing costs.”

The only opposition to the settlement on the council floor came from Donovan. The south side alderman, a long-time advocate for rank-and-file members of the police department and the police union, ultimately abstained from voting on authorizing the settlement, but did earlier vote to authorize the funding for the settlement.

In his remarks explaining his position, Donovan stated “there are no winners, with perhaps one exception, the attorneys walking away with $1.1 million.” Donovan noted that there are plenty of losers in what he characterized as a “dark chapter in Milwaukee’s history” including Dontre Hamilton, his family, the taxpayers, Manney and members of the police department.

Donvan went on to state that “for me to vote in favor of this I feel that somehow I would be contributing to the belief that officer Manney did something wrong, and I simply don’t believe that.” Donovan charged that Police Chief Edward A. Flynn fired Manney only to avoid racial unrest, and that the city saw racial unrest anyway. He concluded, saying that “while it may be the expedient thing to settle this, at least for me, I don’t believe it’s the right thing to do.”

The Donovan floor speech drew a response from each of the African-American council members, with the exception of council president Ashanti Hamilton who would have needed to temporarily surrender his position to speak on the matter.

Ald. Milele A. Coggs was first to respond and the first of many to open her remarks noting she had originally not intended to speak on the matter, but was drawn to do so by Donovan’s remarks.

She reflected on the tragic nature of the situation and noted she supported the settlement on the basis that it gives recognition to the idea that black lives matter. “We are at a place and time,” Coggs said, “where we should all be humane enough to hope and believe that sleeping in a public park is not a death threat.”

Referring to Donovan, Coggs stated “my colleague says this is over today, and I hope to god he’s right. I hope there isn’t another name to add to the list tomorrow, next week or next year.”

Ald. Nik Kovac spoke in support of Coggs, echoing her call that black lives matter.

Ald. Cavalier Johnson gave his support for the settlement, noting he had walked through the park shortly before the incident occurred and often wonders what would have happened had he woken Hamilton instead of Manney. Johnson stressed that the city needs to not just invest in police, but in all of the residents of the city. He ended his remarks saying Hamilton needs to be remembered because “black lives do matter.”

Ald. Khalif Rainey, who became an outspoken member of the council when the August 2016 unrest happened in Sherman Park, noted “this is not just a Milwaukee issue, this is an American issue… something we have to address not just here in Milwaukee, but as Americans.” Rainey ended his remarks by stating “Fourteen shots. Fourteen shots. I understand that the Milwaukee Police Department has a challenging job, but what occurred that day was more than tragic. We should all respect that and, at least in his death, we should honor him.”

Ald. Chantia Lewis, echoed Rainey’s remarks that no amount of money would be enough to satisfy the loss of life. She pointedly stated “what would you want to happen if it was your child?”

Ald. Russell W. Stamper, II, in response to Donovan’s remarks in support of Manney’s actions, noted that two police officers had previously visited Hamilton and decided to leave him alone. He went on to state “the people that were in the same shoes as officer Manney chose to leave him alone.”

The council approved the funding for the settlement with a unanimous 15-0 vote, and approved settlement authorization on a 14-0-1 vote with Donovan abstaining.

Dontre Hamilton’s family stated that his parents and brothers will not receive money from the settlement, and that it will be put into a fund and made available to Hamilton’s son when he becomes an adult.

How Dontre Hamilton Was Killed

Dontre Hamilton was shot and killed by officer Manney on April 30th, 2014. Manney had come to check on Hamilton, who was sleeping on a park bench, after employees of the Starbucks cafe in Red Arrow Park called the police to check on him.

Manney began to pat down Hamilton, when Hamilton began to fight him and got control of Manney’s baton. Hamilton hit him on the side of the neck, according to Milwaukee police internal affairs. Manney then discharged fourteen rounds from his firearm at Hamilton.

The incident was clearly visible from Common Council offices on city hall’s second floor. One witness cited in the report on the incident, who is referenced only by the letter’s “R.B.”, is clearly Ald. Robert Bauman.

Manney was fired by Chief Flynn in October 2014, not for excessive force, but for not following department rules in his handling of the situation. Manney appealed the firing and was granted duty disability retirement.

Manney had filed a claim for retirement two days before he was fired by Flynn on the basis that the shooting and its aftermath gave him post-traumatic stress disorder. The officer never faced criminal charges for the shooting following a controversial decision by Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm not to issue charges. Manney now collects 75 percent of his salary tax free.

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35 thoughts on “Eyes on Milwaukee: Sparks Fly Over Hamilton Settlement”

  1. Bobby d says:

    I can now understand the flight out of this town.

  2. SteveM says:

    I find it very troubling that some are trying to turn Manney into the victim in this horrible, horrible event.

  3. JPK says:

    It is unfortunate that the actual contributing factors in this incident were not addressed by the Common Council…which were the mental state of the victim and the State’s continued inability (or unwillingness) to address the needs of the mentally ill in Wisconsin. Our support of the mentally ill is embarrassing and it is irresponsible of our Aldermen to sidestep this critical issue.

  4. Larry says:

    This is an excellent article, as so many of your articles are. The legal fees, if correctly cited, are outrageous, but the family surely deserves a settlement and Manney certainly does not deserve collecting such a large part of his salary, which is a much greater burden for the taxpayers.

  5. Mama says:

    I wanted to say what JPK already said. It’s appalling that there isn’t better training for law enforcement and other first responders that would better enable them to distinguish between someone who is high on drugs vs. mentally ill, vs. being truly aggressive.

    It’s even more appalling the lack of services out there for those in need of solid mental health care.

    Where are our leaders on this??? I guess it’s easier to slam our police offices and blame victims and pay out multi-million dollar settlements than to fix the cause of incidents like this.

  6. AG says:

    Mama, I agree that more training and more services and outreach is needed for the mentally ill. The only problem is distinguishing how officers are supposed to react once violence begins. Being on drugs or being mentally ill doesn’t make someone not “truly aggressive” if they’re assaulting an officer. In fact, the outcome can be even worse for the officer if someone is on drugs or mentally ill, because they may not know when to stop an attack.

  7. Bob says:

    Donovan is entitled to his own opinion and his right to express his opinion whether or not certain members of the council agree with him. What makes their opinion the right one?

    The city of Milwaukee must just have a lot of money that they can spend on these lawsuits as evidenced by this award to the ambulance chasing lawyer Safran and the Hamilton’s as well as the near million dollars paid out in the strip club lawsuit settlement.

  8. Mama says:

    Bob, the City doesn’t have a lot of money.

    We tax payers all have bottomless pockets. Didn’t you know that?

  9. Vincent Hanna says:

    I know that other officers had just checked on Hamilton and determined he wasn’t causing any problems. Why didn’t Manney know that? Also, how are officers trained to deal with someone who has a baton? It can be a deadly weapon but it isn’t a gun, which Manney had. Is an officer trained to shoot to kill in that situation? I know it takes only a few seconds to fire 14 rounds, but 14 rounds seems like an excessive response in that situation. Does the concept of excessive force even exist anymore?

  10. Bob says:

    Mama that was a sarcastic remark. The politicians ought to think of the tax dollars they waste as their own money rather than just P*ssing away money like it grows on trees.

  11. Bob says:


    I don’t put much stock in the other officers checking on Hamilton prior to Officer Manney’s investigation. So they walked over and observed him sleeping on the park bench and opted not to take any action. They really weren’t making the best effort to resolve the complaint about Hamilton sleeping on the park bench. They chose to just walk away. Officer Manney opted to actually follow up and do his job and Hamilton chose to resist and disarm him and then beat him with his own baton. As a result Manney is forced to use deadly force and shoot Hamilton. The number of shots fired in this instance doesn’t matter once the officer had determined he needed to use the deadly force option. Shoot until the threat is stopped period. This tragedy with Dontre could have been avoided if his family had actually cared enough to help him prior to the unfortunate incident arther than once they smelled the scent of greenbacks coming their way.

  12. EC Anderson says:

    It appears that Dontre Hamilton was executed for the crime of sleeping in a park. Anyone asleep would react by grabbing a club that was jabbing him while half asleep. Did he know it was a cop, and should a trained policeman use deadly force on an unarmed person? Donovan is right only in his observation that attorney fees consume such a large portion of the settlement, but the family is entitled some restitution for the police murder of their family member. And, yes, the police officer was wrong.

  13. MKE kid says:

    Never mind that the Hamilton family had a restraining order against Dontre at the time of the shooting. That is never mentioned. Now, the City of Milwaukee taxpayers have to pay out million$ to a family that didn’t want to deal with Dontre and his violent outbursts.
    I love Milwaukee, but can no longer afford to live in my home town.
    Flynn and Barrett are cozy bedfellows. Flynn has never “served” in any community for more than a couple of years. He always has moved around a lot, but sure seems to have found a comfy niche in Milwaukee. Meanwhile, his wife still lives out East. Hm.
    Flynn and Barrett are nothing more than political buddies. They scratch each others’ backs and God knows what else. Flynn’s bought and paid for million dollar Downtown condo for starters. MPD had more than enough very good cops in the upper levels, but Flynn was chosen from the outside.

  14. Vincent Hanna says:

    Bob I read that the officers actually engaged with Hamilton and talked to him before determining that he wasn’t a threat. Is that not true? You speak like you know the Hamilton family but I am guessing you don’t.

    Maybe Flynn’s wife lives elsewhere because of his affair.

  15. Rich says:

    I don’t put much stock in the other officers checking on Hamilton prior to Officer Manney’s investigation. So they walked over and observed him sleeping on the park bench and opted not to take any action. They really weren’t making the best effort to resolve the complaint about Hamilton sleeping on the park bench. They chose to just walk away.

    Per city ordinances and other applicable laws, what is the “correct” resolution to someone sleeping on a park bench? The signs say “Park closed after 10pm”; it wasn’t that time of day when this happened. Maybe the right answer was to “just leave him alone”.

    Separately, a disturbing pattern that I’ve noticed in reading up on many of the deaths at the hands of police incidents is the lack of context and or supporting information. MKE PD’s many tier structure for reporting issues contributes to this. Personal observation —-phone call—> MPD operator —computer relay (other?)—> MPD dispatcher —radio call (other>)—> Actual officer makes for one hell of a “telephone game” problem. Understand that in crisis situations (e.g. 911) this will always be a problem, but “sleeping in the park” should’ve come via non-emergency and thus had cooler heads all around.

  16. AG says:

    EC Anderson, Hamilton was not poked by the baton, it is documented that Manny questioned him and did a pat down. It was the pat down that caused Hamilton to attack Manny. After Manny tried using his baton, he was disarmed and attacked with his own baton. Only then did Manny pull his firearm and shoot. He was not executed for sleeping on a bench, he was fired upon by the officer because he was attacking him with a potentially deadly weapon.

    Vincent, you’re right that other officers questioning Hamilton already. I wouldn’t doubt that Hamilton being approached by multiple officers may have made him feel harassed. The reason Manny came is because, like many beat officers, he has local relationships and was called on his cell phone directly to come address the situation. This wouldn’t have had to be the case if MPD was able to respond to calls in a reasonable manner. That being said, because he got called directly, the way he checked in with dispatch was timed in a way that they didn’t report to him that other officers had responded already. It was an unfortunate timeline, to put it mildly.

  17. Vincent Hanna says:

    Was is Starbucks that called him directly on his cell phone? It’s unfortunate that they felt the need to do that after other officers had already spoken with Hamilton. It’s such an unnecessary death. There are homeless men all over UWM this week, inside the Student Union and Library and outside in various parts of campus. They are present during the semester as well but I noticed more of them earlier this week. I know the family insists he wasn’t homeless, but either way, Hamilton wasn’t bothering anyone and those employees had no legitimate reason to call the police about him.

  18. AG says:

    No, I believe a sgt. who knew Manny had the relationship w/ starbucks employees called him and when Manny checked w/ dispatch it had not been addressed yet.

    I think it’s could be a valid point to say the starbucks employees shouldn’t have called. But, I can see the other side too… there were witness reports saying he was harassing people for money and calling them profanities before the incident. If he was doing that, I think it’s legit for a business to call the police to address the situation. (They did call the non-emergency number too, so I don’t think undue alarm from calling 9-1-1 was a factor).

  19. AG says:

    MKE kid, I don’t know where these claims about Hamilton’s family not caring about him are coming from. The initial investigation looked into what was being done regarding his mental illness and found that the family had called a mental health mobile unit to meet him and give him his meds. After they determined there was no immediate threat to Hamilton, and thus didn’t qualify for emergency meds, they arranged to pick him up the next day to get him his meds again (it was corroborated by phone records and the mobile med team records).

  20. Vincent Hanna says:

    I didn’t realize Hamilton was swearing at people and causing problems before Manney arrived. I thought part of the issue was that he wasn’t causing any problems and therefore should never have found himself being questioned by Manney in the first place.

  21. Jason says:

    It seems the city of Milwaukee’s new policy for small businesses is if there is a vagrant in front of your shop deal with it. If a customer complains about the site of a grown man propped up against your business door direct them to the alley to conduct business. Finally, do not call emergency services this is your new normal-deal with it.

  22. Maureen Burke says:

    Manney called dispatch and was told there was no longer a call – why then did he go to “Starbucks” to check out Hamilton?
    He had to shoot him 14 times? I think it is quite clear that Manney was not equipped (mentally) to be a police officer.

    I’m glad that Dontre Hamilton’s son will get the settlement. “Black lives do matter.”

    Maureen Burke

  23. Vincent Hanna says:

    Literally no one said anything remotely like that Jason. Keep on trollin’.

  24. Jason says:

    Vince, the whole incident occurred because a human body happened to be situated in front of the entrance of a Starbucks. I wonder how many of those latte sippers wonder about helping Hamilton. Per usual, they pushed the problem on to police. A past blogger states why 14 times. If an aggressor comes at you and you happen to have a gun. You unload your gun which probably took Manning all of about 2 seconds. Manning follow the training he was given. If you fault him you should fault the Chief of Police.

  25. AG says:

    Vince, yeah most people didn’t hear about that. He was doing the ole’ “I need bus money to get to my job” thing and then yelling when not given money. But that was before the starbucks employees called and I do not know if that contributed to starbucks calling on him. By the time he called, he was sleeping against their building.

    Jason does have a point though, if a “vagrant” (however one defines that) is in front of a business, can a business do anything about it? Can they ask the police to address it? Can Police make that person move? I’d tend to think not, but what if it’s hurting business? Very complicated questions.

    In addition, and this is just my interpretation and glad I don’t have to make the actual judgement on this in court, was it reasonable for Manney to search him? I’ve been stopped by police and asked to be searched before. It seems reasonable, especially in Milwaukee where anyone can be a threat. Was Hamilton agitated he got approached by cops 3 times in roughly an hour? I could totally see that… maybe that made him come across as threatening or potentially dangerous enough to need to be searched before they conversed?

    Overall this just comes across as a bad series of events that if just one thing changed his death could have been avoided. However, I’m not sure if you could really have seen it coming… and don’t necessarily fault anyone. Usually I’d side against anyone who attacks a cop but, due to his mental illness, give leeway in Hamilton’s case. In the end, this was a tragedy all around and I feel deep regret for both the Manney and Hamilton families.

  26. Vincent Hanna says:

    What’s your source for that AG? I’m curious not because I think you’re wrong but because I haven’t read that and would like to.

    Jason is a troll AG. He might have addressed a valid issue but he did it in an idiotic and vitriolic manner. Don’t feed the trolls please. No one suggested a business should ignore vagrants or that they have no right to be concerned about people harassing customers. Let’s not get sidetracked by nonsense here.

    Anyone can be a threat anywhere. It is not reasonable to search someone without probably cause.

  27. AG says:

    It was in the info they released when they decided not to prosecute Manney. I tried to find it to see if it played into why the cops were called, but I can’t find that info anymore.

  28. Vincent Hanna says:

    Is it possible that isn’t accurate? From a December 2014 JS story:

    “Before the encounter, a pair of officers responding to a call that Hamilton was asleep in the park checked on him twice and found he was doing nothing wrong.” Later the story says when Manney got there Hamilton was lying on the ground.

    A Washington Post story from that same time shares what the Starbucks employee said in the call: “Like I said, there is a homeless guy sleeping alongside the trailers there if you want to check on him. Black male, 30 to 40 years old, wearing a blue or a navy coat and navy jeans.”

    No mention of him harassing anyone, and again, I have read everything I can about this story and never read anything about Hamilton doing anything wrong.

  29. Vincent Hanna says:

    Flynn talks about Hamilton’s brushes with the law and again there is a recounting of the Starbucks employees calling the police because Hamilton was sleeping and the officers talking to him before declaring him not a threat. It also includes what Manney said about the encounter, beginning with him finding Hamilton lying on the ground. But not a single mention of Hamilton harassing anyone. I don’t think that’s true AG.

  30. AG says:

    I agree, what you have listed is what I’ve seen too regarding the events when police were called. This was earlier, before that. I distinctly remember reading it. The info was in the same source I read about Dontre’s family trying to get him his meds. Still though, I’m not claiming it had any bearing on the starbucks employees calling the police or not. I’d have to find the source I originally learned of it.

  31. Vincent Hanna says:

    You’d think Starbucks would call over him harassing people for money as opposed to sleeping. If it did indeed happen it doesn’t seem in any way relevant to what happened that day.

  32. Jason says:

    What if Manning died would this be a different story? Dontre is startled a second time by a police officer. Manning checks his pockets for sharp glass or a make shift weapon that numerous transients carry down town to protect themselves from each other. Dontre gets fed up grabs Manning baton and Manning decides not to shoot and receive the punishment. Manning’s life is now at risk. How many blows would you take to your head with out protecting yourself, Vince.

  33. Vincent Hanna says:

    Wow such a thought-provoking question Jason. You are a deep thinker. Obviously no one has the right to protect themselves when they are receiving repeated blows to the head. Goes without saying. I eagerly anticipate your next gem of a question.

  34. Williemac says:

    Ofc Manney was unjustly fired for just doing his job, he answered a complaint and through no fault of his the situation deteriorated to a unfortunate death of a young man. Quality of life is important, people can’t be sleeping on the sidewalk in front of a business, it can’t be tolerated. Flynn had no business to fire this man for just doing his job. Repeated blows to Manney head cannot be acceptable.

  35. Mary Kay Wagner says:

    The other officers who checked on Hamilton had CIT training and recognized that he was not a danger and told the Starbuck’s staff that he was not a danger. Manney did not have CIT (special training to deal with individuals with mental health issues) and he decided he was better equipped to deal with the situation than those specially trained. That is what is called hubris. Manney had no business approaching Hamilton. He was showing off and it caused the death of a vulnerable individual. Manney caused the situation to spin out of control because he had no idea what he was doing. He made the fatal mistake and Donte Hamilton, Milwaukee tax payers and Milwaukee Police officers are paying the consequences. Pardon me if I am no sympathetic to his claim of PTSD. Manney caused a tremendous amount of trauma for everyone in this city.

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