Deliberations begin in trial of Milwaukee ex-cop who fatally shot Sylville Smith
MILWAUKEE, Wiscon. — Less than a year after the police shooting death of Sylville Smith sparked days of unrest in a northwest Milwaukee neighborhood, a jury began deliberations Tuesday in the reckless homicide trial of the former officer who fired the fatal shots.
Dominique Heaggan-Brown, 25, could face 60 years in prison if he’s convicted.
Body-camera video from another officer — which was played for the jury last week — showed that Heaggan-Brown shot a second bullet into Smith’s chest after the suspect hurled his weapon over a fence and had his hands near his head.
The jury heard closing arguments Tuesday, a day after the defense rested by calling its lone witness, Robert Willis, a police use of force expert who testified that Heaggan-Brown acted in “accordance with his training,” CNN affiliate WTMJ reported.
Willis’ testimony centered on the 1.69 seconds that separated the two shots. He testified that Heaggan-Brown’s decision to fire again was made before he actually pulled the trigger. The use of force expert told the jury that the second shot was justified because officers are trained to assume a suspect may have more than one weapon.
Heaggan-Brown experienced the encounter in “real time,” not in frame by frame motion as it was shown to the jury, Willis said, according to WTMJ.
“So when we see the trigger being pulled, we have to not consider that the moment of decision,” he said. “It’s not. We have to go back — and I can’t tell exactly how many frames but we have to go back two-tenths or three-tenths of a second — we have to go back several frames … to delve into the decision-making process that goes into firing this shot.”
Willis, who wrote the use of force manual used by Milwaukee police officers, told the jury that Heaggan-Brown justifiably responded to a “deadly threat,” CNN affiliate WISN reported.
Last week, members of Smith’s family gasped as body camera footage of the August 13, 2016 foot chase that ended with his death was played in court.
The reaction to the video, including sobs from Smith’s family, caused the judge to clear the courtroom last Wednesday.
Heaggan-Brown’s defense attorney called for a mistrial, saying the family’s reaction could influence the jury, according to CNN affiliate WITI.
Judge Jeffrey Conen denied the request.
Officer fired for a different offense
The shooting sparked days of unrest in the Sherman Park section of Milwaukee, a city long torn by racial tensions.
Heaggan-Brown was later fired from the department in an unrelated sexual assault investigation.
Prosecutors said Heaggan-Brown’s first shot was justified, but not the second, according to CNN affiliate WISN.
Heaggan-Brown’s former partner, Ndiva Malafa, testified last week that they were chasing Smith, 23, because they saw he had a gun.
“I saw Mr. Smith exit the vehicle. I observed the firearm and at that point, we made eye contact. At that moment, I believe I started to — I see him running northeast. Out of the corner of my eye, I see Heaggan-Brown chase him as well,” Malafa testified, WITI reported.
Malafa’s body camera footage was played several times in court, according to WTMJ. Malafa also guided the jury through the footage frame by frame, the station reported.
The video picks up as Malafa jumps out of this squad car. The shaky footage shows him trailing behind Heaggan-Brown, who is chasing Smith. The suspect ran across a lawn, turned a corner and headed toward a fence, but slipped right before reaching it.
Smith was armed with a Glock .40-caliber model 22 semi-automatic handgun with an extended magazine containing 23 rounds.
An autopsy showed that Smith had a gunshot wound through his upper right arm and another to his right upper chest.
In the body camera audio, which was activated 30 seconds after the shooting, Heaggan-Brown was heard yelling at Smith: “Stop reaching.” The ex-cop moved Smith’s hand away from his waist, the criminal complaint said.
Heaggan-Brown had previously said he believed Smith “was reaching for his waist so he discharged his weapon a second time.”
In an interview with WITI, Smith’s brother Sedan said: “It’s the longest 30 seconds of my life to be able to just watch the video.”