November 22, 2014

No felony charges from MPD death inquest

A special prosecutor will not seek felony charges against Milwaukee police officers, in connection with the July 2011 death of Derek Williams. The 22 year-old Williams died in police custody after being arrested for a street robbery. A police video showed that he had trouble breathing, and collapsed a number of minutes after being put in the back of a squad car.

Special prosecutor John Franke, who questioned witnesses for a week in front of an inquest jury, said earlier that he might have the jury consider felony charges such as reckless homicide. But Franke said the medical evidence is too complex, and there’s too much uncertainty of how Williams died, in order to justify felony charges. Instead, he asked the jury on Tuesday to consider misdemeanor counts of failure to render aid by law enforcement.

Milwaukee officer Patrick Coe and Sergeant Robert Thiel invoked their Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination last week, and were granted immunity from prosecution. Both men took the stand on Tuesday. Coe offered nothing new, but Thiel said Williams appeared to be in distress when he was lying on the ground before being placed in the squad car – and Thiel said he had been willing to summon medical help, had he suspected that Williams needed it. Thiel said he never heard Williams complain that he couldn’t breathe. Coe said Williams mentioned it once.