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3 Milwaukee Cops Not Charged in 2011 Death of Derek Williams

The three Milwaukee police officers who allowed a man having difficulty breathing to die in their custody, won’t face criminal charges in the case, the special prosecutor announced on Friday.

Derek Williams, 22, died in the back of the officers’ squad car in 2011. Special prosecutor John Franke, a private lawyer appointed by Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm, concluded that there wasn’t enough evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the officers—Jason Bleichwehl, Jeffrey Cline and Richard Ticcioni—believed Williams needed medical attention and would suffer bodily harm if he didn’t get it. Franke released a 33-page report Friday.

Williams was arrested by the police after he had been running about a block and a half. Earlier in the day he was released from jail, where he had been held for unpaid tickets. According to Franke’s report, there was nothing in the jail records or from his family members to indicate any prior medical problems. But it appeared that Williams — who had a genetic marker for sickle cell but not the disease itself — died of sickle-cell crisis.

In the squad car, Williams pleaded with the officers to roll down a window and call an ambulance. But they refused, with one of them saying, “Nope, you’re talking to me, you’re just playing games,” according to a transcript of the squad car video.

“The evidence is clearly insufficient to satisfy that burden of proof as to any one of these three officers,” Franke said.

He said the officers’ failure to act was a “grievous mistake,” but that charges would have to reflect criminal intent, not just a failure to do what “should have been done,” according to The Associated Press.

While the officers declined to testify during the inquest, citing their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, other officers said they thought Williams was faking.

In a statement, Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn said the officers would soon return to active duty. He said his department is committed to “restoring the trust of those whose confidence was shaken by these events.”

Bridget Boyle, attorney for Jeffrey Cline, said her client was upset about Williams’ death, but she said he was not criminally liable.

“Milwaukee police officers are not taught how to identify who has sickle cell trait or how to assess people for sickle cell trait,” she said. “This is an unfortunate, unfortunate circumstance, but I think the right decision was made by Franke.”

Although the medical examiner’s office initially ruled Williams died of natural causes, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel obtained the squad car video showing Williams pleading for help from the back seat for nearly eight minutes and growing progressively weaker until he collapsed on his side. The medical examiner’s office then changed the manner of death to homicide.

But Franke said the squad car video was filmed using an infrared camera that produces a clearer image than the one available to the officers on that dark night. In addition, there could have been glare from their laptops reflecting on the plastic window between the front and back seats.

“It is unfair to judge the officers’ state of mind based on the videotape, which was simply not a part of the information used by the officers in deciding whether to believe Williams,” the report said.

Sharday Rose, Williams’ girlfriend, told AP she was angry that Franke wasn’t bringing charges and that the legal system that wasn’t producing accountability.

“I feel like they should not be back working on the streets after they let him die,” said Rose, 24.

Rose and Williams had three kids — two daughters ages 4 and 2, and a 3-year-old son.

“My kids need some justice,” she said.

But the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Milwaukee has not ruled out charging the three officers, and the U.S. Department of Justice is considering whether to sue the Milwaukee Police Department over a possible pattern of civil rights abuses.

“A decision has not been made,” U.S. Attorney James Santelle said. “I can tell you there’s nothing imminent right now.”

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