(Reuters) - A former Milwaukee police officer, whose fatal shooting of a black man last August led to two nights of rioting, was found not guilty in the killing on Wednesday.
Dominique Heaggan-Brown, who is also black, was charged with first-degree reckless homicide in the death of Sylville Smith, 23, following a foot chase that was captured on a police body camera.
People were heard in a courtroom video stream crying and yelling after Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Jeffrey Conen read the jury’s verdict.
Heaggan-Brown was fired from the police force in October over unrelated sexual assault charges. He was charged with assaulting a man a day after he fatally shot Smith.
The former cop was also charged with having sex with prostitutes and sexually assaulting another person between December 2015 and July 2016, court records said.
“This guy is somebody we now know was engaged in all sorts of criminal conduct, shouldn’t have been there,” the Smith family attorney, David Owens, told reporters after the verdict.
“The department knew about it, but they don’t care because they defend officers with impunity and that is what allows them to kill and shoot first and ask questions later.”
Heaggan-Brown’s attorney Jonathan Smith, said by telephone that no officer wants to use deadly force, but his client did what he was trained to do.
“He acted consistent with his training. We are certainly gratified that the jury agreed with that,” he said.
Michael Crivello, President of the Milwaukee Police Association, the city’s police union, also welcomed the jury’s decision.
Police said Smith was armed and ignored commands to drop his gun. After Smith was shot, the resulting violence during protests left businesses burned, police cars damaged and officers injured.
Heaggan-Brown was acquitted less than a week after a Minnesota police officer was found not guilty of shooting a black motorist in a suburb of St. Paul.
Milwaukee District Attorney John Chisholm told reporters he respected the jury’s decision and the body camera that provided footage of the shooting was itself a step towards greater police accountability.
“Everybody understands, not just in this community but throughout the country, that the relationship between law enforcement and the justice system and the communities they serve is under some severe strain right now,” Chisholm said.
Reporting by Timothy Mclaughlin in Chicago; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Grant McCool