MILWAUKEE – Milwaukee officials approved a $2.3 million settlement Wednesday for the child of a mentally ill black man who was fatally shot in a 2014 confrontation with a white police officer.
The Milwaukee Common Council gave its unanimous approval to settle a lawsuit brought by the son of Dontre Hamilton, who had been sleeping in a downtown Milwaukee park when Officer Christopher Manney approached him. One alderman abstained, saying he didn't believe Manney did anything wrong. Mayor Tom Barrett is expected to sign off on the settlement within the next 10 days, spokeswoman Jodie Tabak said.
Manney said Hamilton attacked him as he frisked him for weapons and that he shot the 31-year-old 14 times in self-defense. Manney said Hamilton had taken away his police baton, prompting him to open fire. Police Chief Edward Flynn said at the time that the pat-down wasn't necessary, and he fired Manney for failing to follow department rules.
The shooting happened a few blocks from City Hall, where the Common Council meets. Alderman Cavalier Johnson recalled walking past Hamilton as he slept on a park bench and said he wonders whether things would have turned out differently if he had woken him.
"I walked right past him," he recalled before the council approved the settlement. "For me, it's always weighed on me."
Alderman Bob Donovan abstained from voting.
"For me to vote in favor of this, I'd feel that somehow I would be saying, and I would be contributing to the belief, that officer Manney did something wrong," he said.
The Milwaukee County district attorney did not charge Manney in the death, and the U.S. Justice Department decided against pursuing any civil rights charges. The federal agency cited eyewitness accounts, physical evidence, Manney's testimony and input from use-of-force experts.
The proposed settlement follows a $2.5 million payout the Milwaukee council approved in February to a woman raped by a police officer who was responding to her 911 call in 2010. Flynn fired the officer, Ladmarald Cates, who is serving 24 years in prison for the rape.
The city also has paid $5 million to be divided among 74 black residents who claimed police illegally strip-searched them between 2008 and 2012.
The attorneys for Hamilton's son said in a statement that they plan to put the settlement money in a fund for him to receive when he becomes an adult.
"To clarify, the Hamilton parents and brothers were never plaintiffs in the lawsuit. Even though these individuals were never going to benefit financially from the lawsuit, they have sought to obtain accountability for the senseless loss of their son and brother, Dontre Hamilton, and to end future needless killings," the statement read.
The statement goes on to say Hamilton's family doesn't want criminal charges against Manney to be ruled out.
"The Hamilton family insists that if more evidence is revealed in the future, Officer Manney should be subjected to the same criminal prosecution as that of any other citizen who unjustifiably took a human life," the statement said.