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Ex-officer begins defense in Milwaukee shooting trial
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MILWAUKEE (AP) — A police expert in the use of deadly force testified Monday that the former Milwaukee officer on trial for fatally shooting a black man after a foot chase “acted in accordance with his training.”
The testimony came as attorneys for Dominique Heaggan-Brown, who is also black, presented their case that the former officer acted in self-defense during his brief encounter with Sylville Smith, who ran from a traffic stop holding a gun on Aug. 13.
“From what (Heaggan-Brown) knew, he was presented with a deadly threat and responded,” said Robert Willis, who has trained police officers and wrote Wisconsin’s Defensive and Arrest Tactics Manual.
The shooting sparked two nights of rioting in the majority African-American neighborhood where it happened.
Willis was the only witness called by the defense after Heaggan-Brown announced on Friday that he would not take the witness stand. Closing arguments are expected Tuesday morning.
Heaggan-Brown is charged with first-degree reckless homicide and faces up to 60 years in prison if convicted. Jurors are also being given the option to choose from two lesser charges instead — second-degree reckless homicide and homicide by negligent operation of a dangerous weapon.
Prosecutors have argued Smith was defenseless when Heaggan-Brown fatally shot him because he had thrown away his gun. They questioned Willis’ credibility by noting he had not visited the scene of the shooting and only saw bodycam video from Heaggan-Brown but not footage from the vantage point of another officer who was there.
But the fatal encounter happened in the span of 12 seconds and Heaggan-Brown’s attorneys have said he needed to act fast.
After a brief foot chase, Smith slipped and hit the ground. Heaggan-Brown shot Smith on his right bicep as he stood and threw the gun away over a fence. He shot him again less than two seconds later, this time in the chest, when Smith fell on his back.
Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm has said that Heaggan-Brown was justified when he fired the first shot, but argues the second shot was unnecessary.
To explain his point, Chisholm has cited bodycam video from one of Heaggan-Brown’s fellow officers, who was to the right of Heaggan-Brown and a few steps behind. From that officer’s perspective, Heaggan-Brown shot Smith in the chest from a few feet away when he was on his back after being shot in the arm.
Heaggan-Brown and two other officers had approached Smith’s rental car because it was parked more than a foot from the curb, and police believed a drug deal was happening.
Heaggan-Brown was fired two months after the shooting when he was charged with sexual assault in an unrelated case.
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