A former Wisconsin police officer was acquitted Wednesday in the fatal shooting of an African-American man, a killing that had ignited two nights of unrest in Milwaukee.
Dominique Heaggan-Brown, who is also black, was found not guilty of first-degree reckless homicide in the killing of Sylville Smith, who was carrying a semi-automatic pistol during a brief foot chase that led to the shooting.
The reading of the verdict was interrupted by anguished cries from some of the attendees in the gallery.
While the officer and the victim in this case were both African American, it was one in a series of fatal shootings of black people across the United States.
The incident highlighted how a person’s race might bias an officer’s decision to use deadly force.
Prosecutors focused on the second of two shots aimed at Smith, saying he was no longer armed by that time and the officer should not have fired again.
Heaggan-Brown’s attorneys argued that he acted in self-defense and was forced to make a quick decision about whether to shoot.
Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm urged those disappointed with the verdict to remain calm, saying the case was a difficult one for prosecutors.
“Any prosecutor will tell you that self-defense cases are tough cases,” Chisholm told a news conference after the verdict.
Relying mostly on body camera footage from Heaggan-Brown and a second officer, authorities said the first shot struck Smith in the arm as he was raising his right hand, which was holding the gun.
Smith then fell to the ground and was unarmed, but Heaggan-Brown fired a second shot at Smith’s chest, according to the criminal complaint.
The 23-year-old Smith died at the scene.
The officer was fired from the Milwaukee Police Department in October following unrelated sexual assault charges.
The shooting triggered two days of turbulent protests that saw cars and businesses in the city set on fire, and police targeted with gunshots, rocks and bottles.
“The relationship between law enforcement and the justice system, and the communities they serve, is under some severe strain right now,” Chisholm said.
The ruling follows Friday’s acquittal of Minnesota police officer Jeronimo Yanez, 29, in the shooting death of black motorist Philando Castile, whose dying moments were livestreamed on Facebook.
And all six Baltimore officers charged over the 2015 death of Freddie Gray, due to spinal cord injuries suffered in the back of a police van, were eventually cleared.
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