Former Milwaukee officer found not guilty in shooting death of Sylville Smith

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Dominique Heaggan-Brown, right, was acquitted of first degree reckless homicide for the shooting death of Sylville Smith, left. (Photo: Facebook)

A jury on Wednesday found former Milwaukee police officer Dominique Heaggan-Brown not guilty of first-degree reckless homicide for the killing of Sylville Smith last summer.

Members of Smith’s family urged people not to get violent after the ruling, according to the Associated Press. Milwaukee erupted into two days of rioting last summer following the shooting of Smith.

Last week, jurors saw body camera footage that showed the incident. In a 15-second clip, Heaggan-Brown stops his police car, gets out, draws his weapon and chases Smith, who falls in front of a chain-link fence and tosses a gun. That’s when Heaggan-Brown shot Smith in the arm, and then again in the chest about two seconds later as he was on the ground.

The case hinged on whether Smith was a threat to the officer as he was on his back and away from the gun. Prosecutors argued that Smith was defenseless, and Heaggan-Brown fired “in point-blank range.” But defense attorneys said the officer was just following his training.

“A gunfight doesn’t end until the threat is stopped,” said defense attorney Jonathan Smith.

The weapon Smith tossed was a Glock .40-caliber Model 22. It had an extended magazine with 23 rounds. Heaggan-Brown has said he thought Smith might have had another gun in his waistband.

“Stop reaching,” Heaggan-Brown could be heard yelling at Smith in the body camera video, which had the audio kick on 30 seconds after the shooting. The officer moved his hand away from Smith’s waist, according to court documents.

The jury spent just two days deliberating. Nine women and three men sat on the jury, and four of them were African Americans.

“There is not joy in a case like this,” said Steven Kohn, one of Heaggan-Brown’s attorneys, after the verdict. “I think we must be mindful that a young man lost his life.”

Outside the courthouse Wednesday, Smith’s father, Patrick, said the verdict was “disrespectful.”

“Don’t give them a reason to take your life,” said Smith’s sister Sherelle. “Do something different in the community, try as hard as you can to be peaceful.”

The night after the shooting last August, as the city rioted, Heaggan-Brown was drinking with a man he met at a bar. They watched television coverage of the riots, and Heaggan-Brown told the man he could do anything he wanted without repercussions. He allegedly sexually assaulted the man that night. He’s been in jail since October for charges related to that incident, as well as allegations he hired prostitutes and recorded nudity illegally. The police department fired him on Oct. 31.

Heaggan-Brown was facing 60 years in prison. His acquittal comes just days after Officer Jeronimo Yanez was found not guilty of all charges for the shooting death of Philando Castile in Minnesota.