The Justice Department said Tuesday that a former Milwaukee police officer will not face charges for shooting and killing a man with a history of mental health issues last year.
Dontre Hamilton was sleeping near a Starbucks kiosk in Red Arrow Park in downtown Milwaukee when one of the kiosk’s employees contacted police about him, according to a report released last year by John Chisholm, Milwaukee’s district attorney.
Two police officers spoke to Hamilton and left. Christopher Manney, at the time an officer with the Milwaukee Police Department, said he later approached Hamilton and tried to pat him down before Hamilton began trying to punch him, beginning a physical confrontation that ended when Manney fired about 14 shots at Hamilton.
Witnesses said they saw Hamilton get Manney’s baton and swing it at the officer, according to Chisholm’s report.
Hamilton’s death was one of several high-profile incidents in recent years involving black men who are killed by police, episodes that have sparked protests across the country and a sustained movement questioning how officers use deadly force.
Chisholm said in December that he determined that Manney’s use of force was justified and declined to charge him with a crime. The same day, the U.S. attorney for the eastern district of Wisconsin announced that the Justice Department would review to see if any federal civil rights violations occurred.
Federal authorities echoed Chisholm’s report, releasing a statement Tuesday saying that civilian witnesses, Manney’s account, physical evidence and the opinions of use-of-force experts combined to show that there was no way “to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Manney acted willfully with a bad purpose to violate the law.”
As a result, the federal review of Hamilton’s death has been closed. The Justice Department said that authorities from its Civil Rights division, the U.S. attorney’s office and the FBI met with Hamilton’s relatives Tuesday to tell them about the decision.
Hamilton’s family said in statement released through attorneys that they “are extremely disappointed with the decision, and are also dismayed by the length of time it took the federal government to make this decision.” His relatives went on to say that they are prepared to file a civil rights lawsuit in federal court.
The shooting occurred in April 2014. Six months later, Manney was fired because he did not follow the department’s policies regarding how to deal with emotionally disturbed people, Edward Flynn, the police chief, announced at a news conference.
Hamilton had a history of paranoid schizophrenia, his relatives said. Manney had said after the shooting he thought Hamilton had mental health issues or was under the influence of drugs or alcohol when the encounter began. Manney’s firing was upheld by a panel earlier this year.
This post has been updated with the Hamilton family statement.