MILWAUKEE (AP) — Two police officers testified Saturday during an appeals hearing for a Milwaukee officer who was fired for inappropriately frisking a mentally ill black man before fatally shooting the man during a scuffle.
Christopher Manney killed Dontre Hamilton, 31, during a fight in a downtown park in April. He was later fired for not following department rules in the moments leading up to the shooting and conducting an “out-of-policy pat-down,” Police Chief Edward Flynn has said.
Manney appealed his termination to the city’s Fire and Police Commission, and a hearing on the matter began Thursday. The focus of testimony has been on whether Manney had a reasonable suspicion to pat-down Hamilton.
One of Manney’s attorneys, Jon Cermele, asked internal affairs Lt. Johnny Sgrignoli, if there was any question whether Manney felt fear during his encounter with Hamilton, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
“I do have a question in my mind,” Sgrignoli said.
Lt. James MacGillis, a department training officer, testified Friday that an officer needs to have a “reasonable suspicion” that a person is armed with a weapon and a reasonable fear for their own safety or the safety of another person before a pat-down.
MacGillis said in his opinion Manney made an assumption about Hamilton based on what Manney perceived as his economic status: homelessness.
Lt. Heather Wurth of Internal Affairs also testified Saturday.
Before an officer takes action, he or she should consider if they can control the situation, Wurth testified. Wurth also is an instructor for Wisconsin Department of Justice’s Defensive and Arrest Tactics manual.
When Manney asked Hamilton to stand up, it contradicted his response to his disciplinary charges in which he said he immediately considered Hamilton a threat, because Hamilton would be more of a danger if he was standing rather than prone on the ground, she said.
Manney, who was not working with a partner that day, could have left Hamilton in a prone position, removed himself, de-escalated or disengaged, and possibly called for backup, Wurth said.
It’s common for officers who are on patrol alone to pat-down subjects of police calls, Cermele said.
“That happens every day in this city, does it not?” he asked, prompting an interjection from the police chief’s attorney Mark Thomsen, who asked if those were legal pat-downs.
The hearing examiner, retired Judge Michael Skwierawski, asked for both attorneys to maintain decorum.
“We don’t need personal arguments between the two of you,” he said.
Before Wurth’s testimony, Skwierawski ruled Hamilton’s prior history and mental health was not relevant if Manney did not know those things at the time of the encounter.
The crowd was much smaller Saturday morning in the courtroom and only a few people gathered in the overflow lobby as proceedings got underway.
The appeal is still in the first phase, during which the panel three commissioners must determine whether a rule was violated. If they find a rule was broken, the panel determines whether the discipline imposed is appropriate.