July 29, 2014

Panel hears about policy responses in Williams death

A community continues to recover from a man’s death last year while in Milwaukee police custody. The family of Derek Williams gathered at a church Friday night, to move forward given recent developments surrounding the death. Williams, 22, was a robbery suspect who died in the back of a police squad car 15 months ago.

Although the death was initially ruled natural causes by the Milwaukee County medical examiner’s office, it was later changed to homicide upon further investigation centered on a squad video of the incident. Williams gasped for air and begged for help while officers ignored him.

The FBI, US Attorney’s office, the district attorney’s office, and Milwaukee Police Department have launched investigations into the incident.

During testimony Thursday to the Fire and Police Commission, Police Chief Ed Flynn spoke about training and policy changes he’s implemented since the death, which include requiring officers to call an ambulance immediately if the detainee requests it. “The challenge is to intervene more quickly,” Flynn said. “We are recognizing the shortcomings of this incident. ”

A lawyer representing the Williams family gave credit to Flynn for now requiring immediate medical response. “Although I am concerned that was not the policy before,” Jonathan Safran told the panel. Safran also repeated a request to determine if a use-of-force report was filed for the incident that led to the death of the 22-year-old.

Also last week, the first hearing in Milwaukee County Circuit Court was held on plans for an inquest that will determine whether criminal charges should be sought against the officers.