Commission clears police in death of man in custody

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  Larry Sandler reporting        No. of views: 284
  The Milwaukee Fire & Police Commission has absolved police of responsibility for the death of a suspect in the back of a police car.

In a report released Thursday, the oversight body concurred with Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm and the Police Department's Internal Affairs Division, both of which found no wrongdoing by officers in 22-year-old Derek Williams' death in July 2011.

The panel recommended, however, that the department consider improving its training for officers to recognize potentially life-threatening medical conditions.

"The death of Mr. Williams is undoubtedly tragic," wrote Michael Tobin, the commission's executive director. "However, the death of Mr. Williams was not intended by anyone. The facts and circumstances surrounding this event indicate that no excessive force was exercised by the officers and no department policies were violated."

That report drew an angry response from an attorney for Williams' family, who called for Police Chief Edward Flynn, "those who cover for him, and the independent cells of soldiers he chooses not to supervise, (to) be tried for genocide and crimes against humanity."

Williams was black. An autopsy attributed his death to a medical condition that predominantly affects African-Americans. Attorney Robin Shellow said people with the single-sickle-cell trait are more likely to die in police custody after they have been put in an upper-body hold, such as the one that the report describes being applied to Williams.

Shellow has filed a notice of claim, a precursor to a lawsuit that would seek $4 million on behalf of Williams' three young children.

A police spokeswoman did not respond to three requests for comment.

This was the first time that the commission has issued a report on a death in police custody since adopting new rules last year that require the panel to launch an independent review whenever anyone dies in custody or is shot by police.

Police came upon Williams near the intersection of N. Holton and E. Center streets in the early morning hours of July 6, 2011, about 5 1/2 hours after he had been released from custody on a child-support violation. He was wearing a mask and officers believed he was trying to rob two people.

After a brief chase, officers found Williams, who was "breathing heavily and sweating profusely," Tobin wrote. The officers believed Williams was trying to "passively resist" their efforts to handcuff him and put him in a squad car, the report says.

But Williams was complaining that he couldn't breathe.

Later, Williams stopped responding and slumped over. Officers checked for a pulse, didn't find one, called paramedics and started cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

A doctor pronounced Williams dead at the scene, slightly more than an hour after police first encountered him, Tobin's report says.

The medical examiner's office ruled that "sickle cell crisis" prevented the flow of oxygen through Williams' body.
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  Filed Under: Death/shooting/taser/beating, Denial of medical treatment, mis-conduct POLICE/Sheriff/FED
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