By Annysa Johnson, Crocker Stephenson and Ashley Luthern, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (TNS)
MILWAUKEE — Filled with frustration and resolve, a coalition of religious and civil rights leaders joined the family of Dontre Hamilton on Monday in demanding that a federal investigation into his fatal shooting move forward, along with a broader review of Milwaukee Police Department cases involving excessive force.
U.S. Attorney James Santelle issued a statement saying the U.S. Department of Justice would review the Hamilton case individually to determine whether federal civil rights laws were violated. Santelle did not address the issue of a larger “pattern-and-practice” investigation that would examine the entire department.
In 2011, federal officials began a preliminary review of whether the U.S. Department of Justice should sue the Milwaukee Police Department for a series of possible civil rights violations. Racial profiling, searches and seizures without probable cause, the targeting of minority populations for harassment, a poor citizen complaint process, excessive use of force, or excessive use of weapons or Tasers, all could warrant federal intervention.
The department has not disclosed the status of that review.
“It is time for the federal government and the Department of Justice to initiate the pattern-and-practice investigation of the Milwaukee Police Department, which we have been hearing about now for a number of years,” attorney Jonathan Safran told about 200 protesters who gathered for a news conference outside the federal courthouse. “Milwaukee has had more that its share of cases with claims of excessive force deaths and civil rights violations at the hands of Milwaukee and other law enforcement officers. When is this going to stop?”
Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn said he believes his department can withstand such federal scrutiny.
“If that federal scrutiny should lead to criticism that needs to be addressed, we’re prepared to do that,” Flynn said.
Officer Christopher Manney killed Hamilton on April 30 during an altercation that began when the officer roused him from sleep in Red Arrow Park downtown. Flynn fired the officer for failing to follow department procedure in dealing with emotionally disturbed people. Hamilton’s family and others have been calling for criminal charges _ and were deeply disappointed with Monday’s announcement.
“He massacred my brother. He stood there and looked at him. He sized him up. And he killed him with hate,” Nate Hamilton told protesters at the courthouse, flanked by representatives of the NAACP, the ACLU and others who turned out to support the family.
“We need protect each other,” an angry Hamilton went on to say. “We need to stop the violence in our communities so we can get rid of these pigs that kill us. Because that’s what they are. They feed off of us. And we can’t let them do that no more.”
Protesters began trickling into Red Arrow Park shortly after Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm’s announcement, and the crowd swelled to about 150 by noon.
“We’re here with heavy hearts,” one of the organizers, Jennifer Epps-Addison, told protesters before leading them on a silent march to the courthouse, as police vehicles blocked intersections to clear their path.
The march was disrupted briefly when officers converged on the line, cuffing one protester and leading him to a police van, prompting shouts of “Shame!” from the crowd.
Police spokesman Lt. Mark Stanmeyer said the man was wanted on a warrant from another police department.
Protesters– including Hamilton’s brother and his mother, Marie — continued through the city in a drizzling rain, shouting “Dontre Hamilton!” and “No justice, no peace!” Marchers were courteous but insistent. At one point, a car got caught in the flow, and protesters spread apart to help the driver navigate through the crowd.
There was no sign of the National Guard, which Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said he was prepared to call in if needed.
Protesters lingered in front of Red Arrow Park for 14 seconds of silence — one second for each shot that hit Hamilton — before heading to All Peoples Church for a gathering that excluded news media, then returned to the park for a brief late afternoon gathering.
Speaking at the federal courthouse, James Hall Jr. of the NAACP criticized Chisholm’s decision, saying it “harkens back to the days of Jim Crow, when a black life could be taken without impunity.”
He said it raises questions about whether there are conflicts inherent in having district attorneys investigate police misconduct, and whether the grand jury has outlived its usefulness in such cases. In addition, he said, the city must address the underlying systemic issues that were laid bare by the Hamilton shooting.
The Rev. Don Darius Butler of Tabernacle Community Baptist Church, which had hosted an earlier meeting between police and the Hamilton family, called their trauma “the city’s shame.”
“Sadly, they are not alone, for they join a company of other families who have lost loved ones by officers who are sworn to protect and serve,” Butler said.
Milwaukee attorney Alex Flynn, part of the Hamilton family’s legal team, alluded to a coming federal lawsuit.
“We intend to pursue every recourse available,” Flynn told protesters at the courthouse. “Jon (Safran) and I have been down this path before, and we have prevailed,” Flynn said, an allusion to the 2004 police beating of Frank Jude that saw numerous officers disciplined and four convicted on federal charges.
“We are very confident we will show that Officer Manney violated Dontre Hamilton’s constitutional rights in the most extreme way imaginable. But it’s larger than that,” Flynn said. “There is an institutional protection of this kind of conduct that we will get to the bottom of. And the larger question becomes, why is this type of behavior … institutionally protected.”
(Bill Glauber of the Journal Sentinel contributed to this report.)
Photo: A large crowd gathers at the federal courthouse in Milwaukee, Wis., with fists in the air on Monday, Dec. 22, 2014. Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm released his report Monday explaining his decision not to pursue charges in the shooting of Dontre Hamilton by Milwaukee Police Officer Christopher Manney. (Mike De Sisti/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel/TNS)