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AG: Ex-Milwaukee cops investigate fatal police shooting

Gretchen Ehlke
Associated Press

Milwaukee — Wisconsin’s attorney general acknowledged Monday that former Milwaukee police officers, now working for the state Department of Justice, are investigating the fatal shooting of a black man by a Milwaukee officer that triggered two nights of violence.

Attorney General Brad Schimel said he doesn’t see a conflict in using former Milwaukee officers in the investigation into the Aug. 13 shooting of Sylville K. Smith.

Smith, 23, was killed after what Milwaukee police said was a brief foot chase when he ran from a traffic stop. A few hours after Smith’s death, a protest on the city’s largely black north side erupted into violence that reignited the following night in the Sherman Park neighborhood.

“Milwaukee PD has about 2,000 sworn officers as I understand. The likelihood that there would be some relationship between a particular patrol officer, who’s going to be much younger than an experienced detective… is small. And if there is any relationship at all, that officer, that investigator would not be permitted to have any role in the investigation,” Schimel said at a news conference in downtown Milwaukee.

He said the DOJ hires many retired officers to work for the Division of Criminal Investigation in the region that they have previously worked.

State Rep. David Bowen, who grew up in the Sherman Park neighborhood, questioned the use of former Milwaukee officers in the investigation and called for Schimel to turn the case over to the U.S. Department of Justice.

“People are crying out for transparency and crying out for accountability,” said Bowen, who represents a large portion of the city’s north side.

Schimel said his investigators have interviewed all “critical witnesses” at least once, but the investigation into the fatal shooting of Smith is not yet complete. His office has been working closely with Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm, who ultimately will decide whether any charges are warranted against the officer who shot Smith, he said.

The attorney general said there are two videos from body cameras worn by two of the three officers who were at the scene of the shooting that show similar vantage points, but that no video or still shots from the video will be released until Chisholm is done with the case. There is no surveillance video from the neighborhood, he said.

While the video is a component of the investigation, Schimel said it’s just one piece among many sources of information.

“They give only a narrow and incomplete glimpse of the overall picture,” he said.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin has pressed Schimel’s office to release the body camera video. Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn said the video clearly shows Smith was holding a handgun and turned toward the officer when he was shot.

Schimel said a 30-second audio delay, set up by the Milwaukee Police Department, means the initial portion of the video, from the time the officers turned on the body cameras, has no sound. The shooting happened very quickly, he added.

“It’s not easy to see everything unless you slow it down” he said.

Smith’s family has been cooperative in the investigation, Schimel said. The Wisconsin Department of Justice is investigating the shooting, as required by state law for any fatal shootings involving police.