MILWAUKEE (AP) — The U.S. Justice Department said Tuesday that it would not pursue civil rights charges against a white Milwaukee police officer who shot a mentally ill black man 14 times in a city park last year.
The department said in a news release that there was insufficient evidence to warrant charging Christopher Manney in the April 2014 killing of Dontre Hamilton, who was schizophrenic but not violent, according to his family.
According to Manney, who has since been fired, he encountered Hamilton in the park while responding to a call about a man sleeping there. According to Manney's attorney, Jonathan Cermele, Manny had a suspicion that Hamilton was armed and felt Hamilton may be more of a threat than he appeared when he stood up to talk to him and raised his arms as if inviting the officer to frisk him.
Manney did pat down Hamilton and a struggle ensued, the officer said. Hamilton grabbed his baton and attacked him with it, leading him to open fire in self-defense, Manney said.
Police Chief Edward Flynn said the pat-down wasn't necessary and he fired Manney for failing to follow department rules. A panel of police commissioners agreed with Flynn's decision.
The Justice Department said it based its decision not to charge Manney on eyewitness accounts, physical evidence, Manney's testimony and use-of-force experts, the Justice Department said. Federal prosecutors said they determined they couldn't prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Manney willfully broke the law.
Officials from the U.S. Attorney's Office of the Eastern District of Wisconsin, the DOJ's Civil Rights Division and the FBI met with the Hamilton family on Tuesday to let them know about the decision.
The family's attorney, Jonathan Safran, said they are disappointed by the decision and dismayed that it took federal prosecutors 10½ months to come to it.
"They don't have much confidence in the criminal legal process," Safran said.
Federal officials began to review the case after the Milwaukee County district attorney decided not to file state charges against Manney.
Safran said Hamilton's family plans to file a civil rights lawsuit in federal court in the near future.
Hamilton's mother, Maria Hamilton, started a support group for mothers whose children have died in police encounters and took part in a "Million Moms" march in Washington last May.