Family Agrees to Record Settlement in Sylville Smith Police Shooting Case

MILWAUKEE – Late yesterday the family of Sylville K. Smith, a young man and father fatally shot by former police officer Dominique Heaggan-Brown August 13, 2016, finalized a record $4 million settlement with the City of Milwaukee.

It is the largest pre-trial settlement of a police shooting case in Milwaukee and Wisconsin history.

In addition to a financial aspect, and reflective of the importance of police reform both nationally and in Milwaukee, the Settlement includes non-monetary components the family of Smith hopes will prevent a shooting like this from happening again. Pursuant to the settlement, the Milwaukee Police Department has agreed that the shooting of Smith “will be used in a training module for officers in the academy, emphasizing: (1) that officers should not provoke altercations, (2) that ‘de-escalation’ should be used; and (3) concerning the pointing of firearms as escalation tactics likely to lead to the unnecessary use of force.” In addition, the MPD has agreed to seek modification of its Standard Operating Procedures to include that officers:

** “shall not point a firearm at or in the direction of a person unless there is a reasonable perception of a substantial risk that the situation may escalate to justify deadly force”;

** “shall not jump out as a means of surprise, immediately approach a vehicle, or engage persons at close proximity unless the member can articulate specific facts and circumstances, which support an objective, individualized, and articulable reason to do so”; and,

** “shall avoid intentionally trying to provoke the flight of a person through immediate approach, surprise, or other means unless the member can articulate specific facts and circumstances, which support an objective, individualized, and articulable reason to do so”.

“The repeated killing of civilians in Milwaukee and nationally, particularly within the Black community, must be addressed beyond individual lawsuits, and we believe that reform of the nation’s police departments is an urgent necessity,” said David B. Owens, an attorney for Mr. Smith’s family.

“It is impossible, ever, to bring back a life that was taken. And, the only way that people can come together as one community is to address the root-causes that allowed Heaggan-Brown to not only kill Smith but harm so many other people, as has happened around the country.  Heaggan-Brown should not have been on the street that day, and the Milwaukee Police Department knew he was an ‘outlier,’ meaning he used force at a higher statistical rate than other officers, and the Department’s ‘Use of Force’ committed recognized the problems with Heaggan-Brown and officers unnecessarily escalating situations by ‘jumping out’ on cars.”

Owens continued, “The modest reforms included in this settlement are an important step in the direction of progress, and a direct result of the work done by so many in Milwaukee who have enabled this suit to be resolved in this way, both by voting for the new City attorney and by making your voices heard over the last four years. This settlement, while historic, is another step in the fight for equal justice for all, not a last step whatsoever.”

The family of Sylville Smith does not wish to comment on the settlement, beyond the statements of their counsel; nothing will bring their son, father, and loved one back.

Sylville Smith was 23-years-old when he was killed by then-Milwaukee police officer Dominique Heaggan-Brown. Heaggan-Brown had a stunningly expansive record of misconduct and poor judgment during his brief tenure with the Milwaukee Police Department, which concluded when he was criminally charged for, among other things, committing sexual assault after partying at a bar in Milwaukee the very evening he killed Smith. Smith is survived by his three-year-old son and two parents.   

Besides Mr. Owens, Smith’s parents and his estate are also represented by Danielle Hamilton of Loevy & Loevy Attorneys at Law. Loevy & Loevy is one of the nation’s largest civil rights law firms and has won more multi-million-dollar jury verdicts than any other civil rights law firm in the country. A copy of the suit, The Estate of Sylville K. Smith, by Personal Representative Mildred Haynes, Patrick Smith, and Mildred Haynes, on her own behalf v. City of Milwaukee, Wisconsin and Dominique Heaggan-Brown, No. 17-cv-862, can be found here.

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