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National Police Misconduct Reporting Project

Man Dies in Police Custody. Medical Examiner Rules Death a Homicide.

From the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:

The Journal Sentinel reported Sunday that the Milwaukee County medical examiner’s office has revised its ruling on the death of Derek Williams, who died in Milwaukee police custody in July 2011, from natural to homicide, according to the district attorney’s office. The decision came after the Journal Sentinel alerted an assistant medical examiner to newly released records.

If Williams had gotten immediate medical attention, he would not have died in the backseat of a squad car while Milwaukee police officers ignored his pleas for help, James Hall, president of the local chapter of the NAACP, said Sunday.

Video at the link above shows Derek Williams handcuffed in the backseat of police cruiser gasping for air and begging for help.   The police do not take his pleas seriously and seem to think Williams is drunk or under the influence of narcotics.

Kudos to the Journal-Sentinel for pursuing the case and obtaining the  police records and video.  The medical examiner did not have the full picture—Hmm—and reversed his conclusion only after the newspaper brought the new information to his attention.

State Trooper Kills Woman in DUI Crash

Prosecutors have charged a Pennsylvania State Trooper with homicide by vehicle while driving under the influence of alcohol.

Searfoss was coming from an annual charity golf outing at Five Ponds Golf Course in Warminster, which began around 11:30 a.m., the affidavit says. The “Bump and Run Golf Event” was a fundraiser for youth scholarships in honor of Phoebe Blessington, who was killed by a drunk driver in 1997.

The off-duty officer was traveling about 70 mph when his vehicle slammed into the car of 21-year-old Robin Taneisha Williams.  A witness said a fire engulfed Williams’s car, killing her.

Culpeper Police Officer Indicted for Fatal Shooting

The Washington Post  notes that this prosecution is “highly unusual”  — “There have been few cases in the United States in which an officer has faced so serious a charge in connection with actions taken while on duty.”

Why is that?  Why is the prosecution “highly unusual”?  Because the investigation was unusual.  First, a separate police agency was brought into the case.  All too often the same agency ends up investigating itself.  Second, a special prosecutor was appointed to the case.  That was another important move.  The local prosecutors work with the local police week to week.  They depend on the police to help them win in court.  Even if there is evidence of wrongdoing, prosecutors often look the other way so as not to “rock the boat.”  Third, a special investigative grand jury was convened to hear from more than 45 witnesses.  In sum, this seems to be the model for how questionable police killings should be investigated.  The fact that this is the exception, not the rule, exposes a very serious problem that we must confront.