Decision Not To File Charges in Derek Williams Death Outrages Milwaukee Community

No criminal charges will be filed against three Milwaukee police officers found by an inquest jury to have failed to render necessary aid to Derek Williams when he collapsed and died in the back of a squad car on July 6, 2011. The controversial death of Williams, a young father of three, has roiled police-community relations since the incident, and community anger exploded again after last week’s development.

Special Prosecutor John Franke, a former Milwaukee County Circuit Court judge, announced Thursday that he would not file charges in the case because he believed there was not enough evidence to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The six-member jury at an inquest into Williams’ death – called after the death finally was ruled a homicide, more than a year after the event — recommended on Feb. 21 that misdemeanor criminal charges be brought against three officers in the case, Richard Ticcioni, Jeffrey Cline and Jason Bleichwehl.

Franke’s decision sparked a protest of the kind that has become familiar to Milwaukee residents. Community members took to the streets Friday to march against police brutality as well as the decision to not file charges against the officers.

About 75 to 100 people participated in a two-hour march that began at WIsconsin Avenue and 16th street and moved along busy streets in downtown Milwaukee. Marchers first went to the police department’s administration building. Community members were not allowed into the building but the protest became heated when a marcher broke a window on a door to the building. The protester was hitting the window demanding to be let in when it broke. He was arrested after the march was over.

A federal investigation into the circumstances of Williams’ death is still underway, with the possibility of federal charges being brought against the officers.

Williams’ family and community members were outraged by Franke’s decision not to bring charges as recommended by the inquest jury.

Sharday Rose, the mother of Williams’ three children, questioned why authorities even bothered to call the inquest, saying it was a waste of time if Franke wasn’t going to follow the jury recommendation.

Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn said Friday that the officers will be returned to duty and that the department will not reopen the internal investigation launched into the officers behavior in connection with Williams’ death.

“The Milwaukee Police Department is committed to the protection of the community and to restoring the trust of those whose confidence was shaken by these events,” Flynn said.

Marches to protest police brutality started in Milwaukee last fall when the video of Williams’ death was obtained and released by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Williams’ death in custody is one of many incidents cited by community members in protests that have been led by Occupy the Hood Milwaukee. Protesters allege a pattern of misconduct by the Milwaukee Police Department including instances of violent assault, sexual assault and homicide over the past couple of years.

Chief Flynn has repeatedly defended his officers but has said they will be held accountable if their behavior is out of line.

Activists and community members have called for Flynn’s resignation and a community review board of police actions.

On Friday, after marchers left the police station, they briefly shut down an intersection, then proceeded to City Hall. They were again met by police and barred from entry, even though the building was open for the last day of early voting in a statewide election to be held this Tuesday, April 2.

The march was then led back to to the starting location. On the way, the marchers again shut down an intersection at Wisconsin Avenue and Water Street in the heart of downtown Milwaukee. They lined themselves along the crosswalks, shutting down traffic for several minutes.

The march finished with a prayer for Derek Williams’ and those whose lives have been affected by police brutality. As the march was ending, an activist named Precious Thompson, who had been leading the march in her car — as she has done at most of the marches — was arrested by police. Thompson was followed by officers on motorcycles, a squad car and a jail transport vehicle. When Thompson pulled over to an empty parking spot after being followed for more than two blocks, three officers approached her car, asked her to get out and threatened to break her car window if she didn’t. After getting out of her vehicle, Thompson was thrown to the ground by the officers, while saying she was disabled and calling out for help. Full video of her arrest can be seen here.

A woman taking the video and a friend can be heard asking the officers for their badge numbers while one officer says that he didn’t have one.

Officers who refuse to identify themselves have been an ongoing problem at these marches, as well as one of the reasons for the protests.

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Tracey Pollock

Tracey Pollock, a native of River Falls, Wis., studied journalism at UW-River Falls and finished her education at UW-Milwaukee with a focus in sociology. She is interested in covering social justice issues and shedding light on issues in a way that corporate media will not undertake. Pollock lives in Milwaukee, where generations of her family have resided. She enjoys the local music scene, bicycling and camping.

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