Milwaukee Police Are Withholding Information About Their Officer's Recent Deadly Shooting

Milwaukee authorities are refusing to release police body camera footage showing the cop killing of Sylville Smith, a 23-year-old black man, yet law enforcement officials are making public claims to the media about what the video contains. As a result, police are maintaining near total control over the narrative about their own officer’s deadly shooting of a man who is not alive to defend himself.


Smith was shot and killed by a Milwaukee police officer following a traffic stop on Saturday afternoon. The deadly shooting touched off angry protests and rebellion over the weekend, in a city plagued by racial segregation and inequality. Amid the protests, Milwaukee police quickly hit the media circuit to publicize their own spin, claiming that Smith threatened officers with a gun.

In a press conference Sunday, Police Chief Edward Flynn directly referenced the body camera footage, stating, “The individual did turn toward the officer with a firearm in his hand.” Flynn went on to state that the footage shows police administering CPR, concluding, “It certainly appears to me at the time [the officer] made that decision it was a credible decision.”

Yet the public is being barred from seeing that footage.

The video is under the jurisdiction of the Wisconsin Department of Justice Department of Criminal Investigation, which says it is conducting a probe at the request of the Milwaukee police department. The agency claims it is not “prepared to release any of the video evidence at this time.”

In a statement released to the press on Monday, the Office of the Attorney General Brad Schimel said: “In recognition of the violence that has affected Milwaukee residents for the last 48 hours, DOJ is working expeditiously, and within the parameters of the law, to provide the community a transparent view of the events that took place on August 13 in a timely manner.”

But ACLU-Wisconsin executive director Chris Ahmuty does not buy these assurances. In an open letter to Schimel released Tuesday, Ahmuty wrote: “To date you have promised transparency, but provided little information on your investigation to the community and Mr. Smith’s grieving family and friends, who seek understanding of the deadly incident that transpired on August 13. In your news release and your spokesperson’s statement as reported in the media, you don’t even mention Sylville Smith’s name. It is important for you to recognize that a Milwaukee police officer has killed a specific person, with family, friends and neighbors.”

Ahmuty pointed out that the most basic information has not yet been disclosed, asking: “Does DCI have the body worn camera(s) (BWC)?”

Milwaukee police officers started wearing body cameras following officer Chistopher Manney’s killing of Dontre Hamilton, a mentally ill black man, with 14 gunshots in 2014. The deadly shooting touched off Black Lives Matter protests, yet Manney dodged charges for the murder, although he was fired from his position. The police department claims that, in 2015, it started to distribute body cameras to 200 police officers.

Nate Hamilton Jr., the brother of Dontre Hamilton, told AlterNet, “We thought they were going to release the videos, we thought that was the point of body cameras, to give the public access. We see that’s not happening.”

“We see them more willing to show body camera video when it’s pleasing to something they’ve done,” Hamilton continued. “When there is something that weighs on the community’s trust, they say let’s wait.”

Even Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett is calling for the full video to be released, declaring at a press conference: “I want the video released. I believe the video will provide a lot of context as to what's going on.”

Barrett claims he saw a still shot of the video showing Smith holding a gun in his hand. But Hamilton emphasized: “If you have seen a picture of it, why don't you show the community a picture of it? I think that the raw material has to be offered to the community. I don’t think you should be able to speculate.”

Authorities’ refusal to release the footage is striking given public outrage in nearby Chicago, where police authorities earlier this month released body camera footage depicting the aftermath of the July 28 police killing of unarmed 18-year-old O'Neal, in which police can be seen roughly handcuffing the teenager while he lies in his own blood after being shot in the back. That city’s police department and the administration of Rahm Emanuel face accusations of covering up a 2014 police killing of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald by intentionally losing key footage.

As Milwaukee authorities withhold key evidence from the public, Sheriff David Clarke is hitting national news outlets to smear racial justice protesters and angry black youth using coded racist language. In a Monday appearance on the FOX Business Network’s “Varney & Co,” he referred to protesters as “creeps” and “cop haters” and proclaimed: “What causes riots are failed liberal urban policies in these ghettos like Milwaukee.”

A fervent Donald Trump supporter, Clarke has attracted national attention for openly declaring war on the Black Lives Matter movement, once proclaiming on social media that racial justice protesters will “join forces” with ISIS.

Meanwhile, police are busy smearing Smith, with the Sheriff’s office releasing a detailed arrest record going back five years. Media outlets have quickly picked up the story, with Fox running the outrageous headline: “Man shot by Milwaukee cop beat gun rap after allegedly pressuring witness.”

As Clarke smears racial justice protesters, Milwaukee authorities are withholding evidence and spinning a public narrative that paints Smith clearly in the wrong. According to Hamilton, “They are treating us in the black community like we're not worth this information, not intelligent enough to receive this information and move forward with dignity.”

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