Why Doesn't a Cop Go to Jail for Shooting Mentally Ill Man 14 Times?

A white Milwaukee cop has been fired, six months after shooting and killing a 31-year-old mentally ill black man, the Associated Press reports.

Dontre Hamilton, who suffered from schizophrenia, was sleeping in a city park last April when Officer Christopher Manney approached him around 3:30pm. Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn said Manney was responding to an earlier voicemail, not knowing that two police officers had already checked on Hamilton twice that afternoon.

Flynn said Manney identified himself, asked Hamilton to stand and began a pat-down search, according to WISC 12. Allegedly, Hamilton began fighting with Manney during the search. The officer tried to subdue Hamilton with his baton, but he was able to take it and struck Manney. Manney then used his service weapon and fatally shot Hamilton.

After an investigation, he was recently fired for his actions.

Chief Flynn said Manney was right to determine that Hamilton was an "emotionally disturbed person, but treated him as a dangerous criminal instead of following his training and treating Mr. Hamilton as an [emotionally disturbed person]." 

"It was an incorrect, wrong decision that placed him ultimately in legitimate deadly jeopardy," Flynn said.

Hamilton’s mother, Maria Hamilton, told WISC 12 that her family wants Manney jailed. "No, I'm not going to grieve until he's in jail," she said. "I'm still angry because I feel like they're not being honest. Yes, it's a plus that he was fired, but he took a man's life, and like any other citizen would go to jail."

Chief Flynn doesn’t agree.

"My inner cop is not dead,” he said. “Every member of this police department has had to make critical decisions under pressure with insufficient information that could have gone wrong. Here's the point I want to make—there's got to be a way of holding ourselves accountable absent of putting cops in jail for making mistakes.”

The district attorney is delaying his decision on Manney until he gets a recommendation from a use-of-force expert, according to the Associated Press.

Maria Hamilton said she struggled to find care for her son after running into insurance issues last winter. Since that time, her son had been off his medication. Before that, he was working and living in group housing. 

“Had he had that medication, he might still be sitting here with us,” Maria Hamilton said.

Poor, mentally ill persons are often left in the cold when mental health services aren’t readily available. According to a study conducted by the Portland Press Herald, half of the people shot and killed by police each year suffer from some kind of mental illness. Between 2009 and 2012, states have cut more than $5 billion in mental health services, according to USA Today. During that time, more than 4,500 public psychiatric hospital beds were eliminated, nearly 10% of the total supply.

With such drastic cuts to mental healthcare, millions of the mentally ill are vulnerable to cops who are not trained to serve as mental health first responders, sometimes with deadly results. 

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