By IVAN MORENO
MILWAUKEE (AP) — A former Milwaukee police officer on trial in a shooting that sparked riots in a predominantly black neighborhood told investigators he feared that he and a colleague would be “killed or seriously injured” by the man he fatally shot.
Wisconsin Department of Justice special agent Raymond Gibbs told jurors Friday about his interview with Dominique Heaggan-Brown two days after the officer shot Sylville Smith. Prosecutors have argued Smith, 23, had thrown away the gun he had when he ran from a traffic stop on Aug. 13 and was defenseless when the officer shot him in the chest.
Heaggan-Brown’s defense attorneys, who will begin presenting their case Friday afternoon, have maintained the officer made a split-second decision during an encounter that transpired over 12 seconds.
The shooting triggered two nights or riots in Milwaukee’s Sherman Park neighborhood, bringing to the surface the long-simmering tension between black Milwaukee residents and the police department.
But unlike other police shootings that have given rise to a national debate over how officers interact with African-Americans, Smith and Heaggan-Brown are both black and from the same neighborhood where the shooting occurred.
Bodycam video from Heaggan-Brown, 25, and another officer on the scene have been the focal point of the trial, showing how rapidly the traffic stop escalated.
Jurors saw video from Heaggan-Brown’s bodycam Thursday — the first time the public has seen from the officer’s vantage point the events surrounding the shooting.
“It happened so quick, like we just,” Heaggan-Brown said, snapping his fingers twice as he sat in a police cruiser talking to a supervisor several minutes after the shooting.
The video shows Heaggan-Brown begin chasing Smith immediately after stepping out of his patrol car. The camera shows Heaggan-Brown briefly pointing the gun at Smith as he begins running after him, but puts his gun back in his holster as Smith turns into a path between two houses.
Smith slips and falls near a fence, dropping his gun. He begins reaching for it as he stands up, his left hand holding the fence.
When the video is slowed frame by frame, Smith is seen holding the gun by the barrel to throw it over the fence. Prosecutors argue that shows Smith no longer posed a threat.
The two shots by Heaggan-Brown came in quick succession — within two seconds of each other — striking Smith once in his right arm as he threw away his gun and then in the chest as he hit the ground on his back.
It was about 12 seconds from the moment Heaggan-Brown exited his vehicle to when he was standing over Smith with his firearm pointed at his body, which lay still.
As Smith appears motionless on the ground immediately after the second shot, Heaggan-Brown yells “stop reaching” and moves Smith’s right hand away from his stomach.
Moments later, Heaggan-Brown checks to see if Smith is still alive.
“Hey man, you still there?” he says, before touching Smith’s neck to check for a pulse. After pumping Smith’s chest with his hands a few times, Heaggan-Brown looks down at his hands and asks for gloves from the arriving officers as police sirens blare.
Heaggan-Brown and two other officers had approached Smith’s rental car because it was parked more than a foot from the curb, and a man standing by Smith’s passenger door led police to believe a drug deal was happening.
“We started right off with a foot pursuit,” Heaggan-Brown told a supervisor after the shooting.
The trial is expected to conclude by the middle of next week.
Heaggan-Brown faces 60 years in prison if he’s convicted of first-degree reckless homicide. He was fired in October after being charged with sexual assault in an unrelated case.