Beyond a reasonable doubt

April 15, 2013
Derek Williams

Derek Williams

By Raina J. Johnson

Special to the Milwaukee Times

Just over 6 months ago, the district attorney ordered that an inquest be conducted for the purpose of inquiring into how Derek Williams died while in the custody of the Milwaukee Police Department on July 6, 2011.

The 33-page report released by special prosecutor John Franke on March 29, 2013 stated, “My intent and goals throughout this service as special prosecutor have been to conduct a thorough and objective investigation; to proceed with an inquest that would provide an objective and public review of the evidence, evidence permitting the jury to make informed finings regarding the cause of death and whether there was probable cause to support a criminal charge; and following that inquest to make a reasoned and just decision as to the issuance of charges.”

According to the report the cause of Williams’ death has some skepticism surrounding it.

“There was significant disagreement among the four experts who testified at the inquest as to whether a sickle cell crisis was the probable cause of death or whether that possibility was less than probable, although no alter native cause of death was ever identified,” the report said. The three officers involved in the case will not be charged in the death of Williams.

The report goes on to say, “This is not a crime that can rest on a finding of criminal negligence or a finding of ‘what should have been done.’ It is not a crime that can rest solely on the compelling video of Williams pleading for help, an image the officers almost certainly did not see. It is a crime that requires a jury to find, beyond a reasonable doubt, that an officer actually believed that medical attention was needed and actually knew that the failure to obtain aid was causing bodily harm.”

In the days following the release of the report, some calling themselves members of Occupy Milwaukee protested the decision to not charge the officers involved in the Williams case. Although criminal charges will not be filed against the officers, there is still the possibility of disciplinary actions that the Fire and Police Commission can take and there are two federal investigations that are open.