Emotional court scene as video of black man's shooting shown
Posted June 14
MILWAUKEE — Dramatic footage from a Milwaukee police body camera shown Wednesday during the trial of an officer charged in a black man's death prompted the man's relatives to leave the courtroom in tears after seeing the brief foot chase that quickly turned fatal.
It was the first time video of the shooting last summer was shown to the public, demonstrating just how fast the events unfolded after a routine traffic stop that left 23-year-old Sylville Smith dead and Dominique Heaggan-Brown charged with first-degree reckless homicide.
The shooting Aug. 23 touched off two nights of riots in the predominantly black neighborhood where it happened. But the case is different than other police shootings that have given rise to a national debate over how officers interact with African Americans. Heaggan-Brown is also black and he grew up in the same neighborhood where the shooting occurred.
The video jurors saw Wednesday came from the vantage point of another officer on the scene. It shows him getting out of the car and almost immediately begin running after Smith, who was holding a gun. The camera shows Heaggan-Brown running behind Smith and turning into a path in between two houses.
Within seconds, Heggan-Brown, 25, is seen shooting Smith twice in quick succession, once in the arm and a second time in the chest while he's on the ground, his body jerking as each bullet struck.
Smith's relatives began weeping and several left the courtroom. The reaction prompted the judge to break and remove the jury from the room while he and attorneys discussed whether the emotional display from Smith's relatives would influence jurors.
The judge denied defense attorneys' request for a mistrial.
Heaggan-Brown, who was fired in October after being charged with sexual assault in an unrelated case, faces up to 60 years in prison if convicted for killing Smith.
The case hinges on different interpretations of what the officers' body cameras show and jurors have yet to see the footage captured from Heaggan-Brown's vantage point.
Milwaukee District Attorney John Chisholm argues the second shot that killed Smith was unnecessary because he had thrown his gun over a fence. But one of Heaggan-Brown's defense attorneys, Jonathan Smith, said the officer feared for his safety and was making a split-second decision.
The trial is expected to conclude by the middle of next week.
Wednesday's video also showed Milwaukee police officers frantically trying to resuscitate Smith. The officer whose camera footage was shown in court could be heard saying, "Keep breathing, keep breathing, you're doing a good job."
The officer, Endiva Malafa, recalled what it was like for him when he saw the video later.
"When I first observed this, I did break down emotionally," said Malafa, who now works for another police department in Wisconsin.
Heaggan-Brown is also shown in the video attempting to provide medical help to Smith, kneeling down beside him and pumping Smith's chest with his hands. One of the points in the video that provoked a strong response from Smith's family showed Heaggan-Brown pulling Smith by his legs a short distance from where he was shot to get him away from a bee hive, his body appearing lifeless.
After opening statements Tuesday, prosecutors began their case Wednesday by showing photographs of Smith lying on the grass with a bloodied purple shirt. By his feet was a lottery ticket that crime scene investigators found in one of his pockets.