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Jury Finds Ex-Milwaukee Officer Not Guilty In Death Of Black Man

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

In Milwaukee, an officer involved in the fatal police shooting of a young black man has been found not guilty. The officer had faced up to 60 years in prison for the shooting last August of Sylville Smith. That shooting sparked two days of violent protests in Milwaukee's Sherman Park neighborhood. As LaToya Dennis from member station WUWM in Milwaukee reports, family members of the man shot to death say justice has not been served.

LATOYA DENNIS, BYLINE: Just before the verdict was read, several Milwaukee County sheriff's deputies formed a line down the middle of the court room, separating supporters of former Officer Dominique Heaggan-Brown from the family and friends of Sylville Smith, who Heaggan-Brown shot to death in August. After the judge read the not guilty verdict, people hoping for a conviction immediately left the courtroom in anger. Outside, Smith's sister Sherelle pleaded with people not to give police a reason to shoot.

SHERELLE SMITH: It's better that you here to make our community great than not to be here just so we can have to continue to the fight 'cause I don't want to lose nobody else.

DENNIS: The shooting ignited two days of violence in August on Milwaukee's north side. Video from the police body cameras showed an on-foot chase between Smith and Heaggan-Brown, who are both black. At one point, Smith dropped a gun, picked it up and turned it toward the officer. That's when Heaggan-Brown fired the first shot, hitting Smith in the arm.

But what grabbed the public's attention was the second fatal shot to the chest, which Heaggan-Brown fired after Smith had thrown his weapon over a fence and had fallen to the ground wounded. The prosecutor in the case said Smith had, quote, "hands up with no place to go" when the second shot was fired. The trial lasted just over a week, and the defense argued that there was no way for Heaggan-Brown to know whether Smith had another weapon and that officers are trained to eliminate such threats. Smith's father, Patrick, questions that logic.

PATRICK SMITH: And they keep talking about they're trained to kill. Why is they supposed to be trained to kill us when they supposed to be trained to protect and serve us?

DENNIS: After the verdict, Smith's father, Patrick, said he felt outraged and afraid.

P. SMITH: I'm so scared of the cops. I don't know what to do - as far as trying to get behind me and stop me, I don’t know where to go. Should I ride to the police station where more of them can shoot me? Or should I pull over to my family house and get gunned down in front of my family?

DENNIS: The Smith family has filed a civil suit against the city of Milwaukee and against Heaggan-Brown. For NPR News, I'm LaToya Dennis in Milwaukee.

(SOUNDBITE OF ALT-J'S "'AN AWESOME WAVE' INTRO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.