Milwaukee police officer Dominique Heaggan-Brown in court.
Michael Sears / AP
Jury deliberations began on Tuesday afternoon in the case of a former Milwaukee police officer charged with reckless homicide after shooting and killing a 23-year-old black man in August last year. The incident led to two days of violent protests in the city.
Former officer Dominique Heaggan-Brown could be sentenced to up to 60 years in prison if convicted of reckless homicide.
But at the prosecution's request, jurors were also given the option to convict the former officer on one of two lesser charges — second-degree reckless homicide or homicide by negligent operation of a dangerous weapon — if they are not convinced the District Attorney has made the case for negligent homicide, Heaggan-Brown's attorney told BuzzFeed News. Those lesser charges carry maximum sentences of 25 years and 10 years respectively.
Heaggan-Brown shot Sylville Smith twice on August 13 after a traffic stop, according to the criminal complaint.
Smith fled on foot from Heaggan-Brown and two other officers, and body cam footage later showed that he was armed when the officer first shot him in the bicep. The second shot, however, which hit him in the chest, was fired after Smith had thrown his gun over a fence and he had collapsed on the ground. The jury was shown the footage last week.
In his closing statement, Heaggan-Brown's lawyer argued that the officer's actions in a time-sensitive situation were not negligent, Fox 6 Milwaukee reporter A.J. Bayatpour reported.
“Officers are forced to make split-second decisions — split-second, literally, in circumstances that are intense. Twelve seconds. Twelve seconds from the time he leaves the car through the second shot. That’s rapidly-evolving,” Heaggan-Brown's attorney, Jonathan Smith, said.
Milwaukee County District Attorney Jonathan Chisholm, in his closing arguments, told jurors that the officer knew Smith did not present an imminent threat when he fired his second shot, Bayatpour reported.
“He knew at the time he fired that second shot, when that bullet went ripping through Sylville Smith’s chest, ripping into his heart, ripping into his lung and ending up in his lower back, he knew at that point in time that there was no imminent threat,” Chisholm said.
The judge ordered cameras and cell phones to be banned from the court room during the trial. The jurors are sequestered—not allowed to leave the court—until they reached their decision.
A protest in Milwaukee in 2016
Darren Hauck / Getty Images
News of Smith’s shooting lead to a weekend of intense protest in Milwaukee’s Sherman Park neighborhood. At least six buildings were set on fire, more than a dozen people were were arrested and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker activated the National Guard.
The shooting came just one month after two other police shootings of black men that gained nationwide attention: Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, LA., and Philando Castile in St. Paul, MN.
Haeggan-Brown was not suspended or fired over the shooting. In October last year, he was arrested and fired from the police force in relation to a separate case in which he was charged with multiple counts of sexual assault and prostitution. Following an investigation by Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm, he was charged over Smith’s death in December.