MILWAUKEE (AP) — Closing arguments are set for Tuesday in the trial of a former Milwaukee police officer charged in a fatal shooting that ignited riots last year in the majority black neighborhood where it transpired.
The death of Sylville Smith at the hands of Dominique Heaggan-Brown on Aug. 13 angered Sherman Park residents and highlighted the strained relationship between police and African-Americans in the city. But the case is different from recent high-profile police shootings that have inspired a national conversation about how officers interact with African-Americans: Heaggan-Brown and Smith are both black and from the north side of the city where the shooting occurred.
Prosecutors charged Heaggan-Brown with first-degree reckless homicide, arguing the former officer didn't need to use deadly force against Smith, who had thrown away the gun he was carrying.
But a police expert in the use of deadly force testified Monday that Heaggan-Brown "acted in accordance with his training."
"From what (Heaggan-Brown) knew, he was presented with a deadly threat and responded," said Robert Willis, who has trained police officers and wrote Wisconsin's Defensive and Arrest Tactics Manual.
The fatal encounter between Heaggan-Brown and Smith happened in the span of 12 seconds and was captured by police body cameras.
Heaggan-Brown and two other officers had approached Smith's rental car because it was parked more than a foot from the curb, and police believed a drug deal was happening. But the situation quickly escalated when Smith ran.
After a brief foot chase, Smith slipped and hit the ground. Heaggan-Brown shot Smith on his right bicep as he stood and threw the gun away over a fence. He shot him again less than two seconds later, this time in the chest, when Smith fell on his back.
Willis was the only witness called by the defense after Heaggan-Brown announced on Friday that he would not take the witness stand.
Prosecutors questioned Willis' credibility by noting he had not visited the scene of the shooting and only saw bodycam video from Heaggan-Brown but not footage from the vantage point of another officer who was there.
Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm has said that Heaggan-Brown was justified when he fired the first shot, but argues the second shot was unnecessary.
To explain his point, Chisholm has cited bodycam video from one of Heaggan-Brown's fellow officers, who was to the right of Heaggan-Brown and a few steps behind. From that officer's perspective, Heaggan-Brown shot Smith in the chest from a few feet away when Smith was on his back.
Heaggan-Brown's attorneys, however, have said he needed to act fast to defend himself and didn't have the benefit of watching the encounter unfold in slow-motion.
Heaggan-Brown faces up to 60 years in prison if convicted. Jurors are also being given the option to choose from two lesser charges instead — second-degree reckless homicide and homicide by negligent operation of a dangerous weapon. The lesser charges carry sentences of up to 25 years and 10 years respectively.
Heaggan-Brown was fired two months after the shooting when he was charged with sexual assault in an unrelated case.