A 23-year-old black man armed with a stolen gun was fatally shot Saturday afternoon by police in Milwaukee during a foot pursuit, authorities say.
The man has been identified as Sylville Smith, police said. Smith was shot in the chest and arm, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said.
He fled from a car during a traffic stop Saturday about 2:30 p.m. in the Wisconsin city’s North Side, police said in a press release. He was chased by two officers and was shot during the foot pursuit, according to police.
Peaceful protests turned to violent unrest Saturday night. One police officer was hospitalized after a brick was thrown through his windshield. Three others were hospitalized with unspecified injuries, but all were released by Sunday morning. Six buildings and several vehicles were burned, including a police car. Seventeen arrests were made, officials said.
The scene was calm Sunday morning, with community members gathering to cleanup and hold a prayer service. Governor Scott Walker activated the state’s National Guard as a precaution. They will be available to assist police Sunday if needed.
The investigation into the shooting is being conducted by the Wisconsin Department of Justice’s Division of Criminal Investigation. The Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office will then review the findings of that investigation.
The officer who shot Smith, identified as Dominique Heaggan-Brown, has been placed on administrative leave. His name has not been released, but police say he is a 24-year-old man who has been with the department for six years. He has worked as an officer for three years.
The officer is black, Police Chief Edward Flynn said Sunday at a press conference.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. The Officers at the Scene of the Shooting Were Wearing Body Cameras, the Mayor Says
Milwaukee Police say the incident began when two uniformed officers stopped a car with two people inside in the 3200 block of North 44th Street about 3:30 p.m. Saturday.
“Shortly after stopping the suspects, both occupants fled from the car on foot. The officers pursued the suspects, and during the foot pursuit one officer shot one suspect, armed with a semiautomatic handgun,” police said in a press release.”
Sylville Smith died at the scene, police said.
The shooting happened in a yard in the 3200 block of North 44th Street, police said.
Police said the other suspect, who has not been named, was taken into custody and is facing charges.
Mayor Tom Barrett said the two officers involved in the chase and shooting were wearing body cameras, WISN-TV reports. The cameras were operational, Barrett said.
He said the officer ordered the man to drop his gun twice and then fired several times when he refused. Barrett said a photo from the body camera clearly shows Smith had the gun in his hand when he was killed.
The body camera footage has not been released, and officials have not said when it could be made public.
2. A Loaded Gun Stolen From a Home During a Burglary Was Found After the Shooting
Police said the semiautomatic handgun recovered at the scene was stolen in a burglary from a home in Waukesha, Wisconsin, in March 2016. The burglary victim said 500 rounds of ammunition were also taken.
Mayor Tom Barrett told reporters the gun was loaded, according to The Associated Press.
“This stop took place because two officers … saw suspicious activity,” Barrett said. “There were 23 rounds in that gun that that officer was staring at. I want to make sure we don’t lose any police officers in this community, either.”
Milwaukee Police Assistant Chief Bill Jessup told the Journal Sentinel it has not been determined if the gun was pointed at the officer or if shots were fired by the suspect.
“That officer had to make a split-second decision when the person confronted him with a handgun,” Jessup said. “This is a risk they take every day on behalf of our community.”
The shooting came after five fatal shootings during a nine-hour stretch from Friday night to Saturday morning. It occurred just blocks from three of those homicides, police told the Journal Sentinel.
“As everyone knows, this was a very, very violent 24 hours in the city of Milwaukee,” Jessup said. “Our officers are out here taking risks on behalf of the community and making split-second decisions.”
3. Smith’s Criminal Record, Which Police Called ‘Lengthy,’ Included a Misdemeanor Conviction for Carrying a Concealed Weapon & Traffic Offenses
Police said in a press release that the 23-year-old man who was fatally shot had a “lengthy arrest record.”
A search of Wisconsin court records revealed several arrests, but only one misdemeanor conviction for Sylville Smith. His record also included traffic offenses. No felony convictions were found.
The misdemeanor conviction, for carrying a concealed weapon, came in July 2014. He pleaded guilty to the charge and was fined $443 and ordered to serve one day in jail.
His record also included guilty findings on traffic offenses for speeding, operating a motor vehicle without insurance, possession of open intoxicants in a motor vehicle and operating a motor vehicle with a suspended license.
Smith was arrested in 2015 on a charge of intimidating a witness by a person charged with a felony, which is itself a felony offense. The case was dropped later that year by the prosecutor.
He was also charged with first-degree recklessly endangering safety, a felony, and misdemeanor possession of THC earlier in 2015. Those charges were dismissed by a judge based on a motion by the defense.
According to the Journal Sentinel, both cases stemmed from a February 2015 shooting in which he was a suspect.
Smith was accused of calling his girlfriend from jail to tell her to call the victim in the shooting case to get him to fill out a sworn affidavit saying Smith didn’t commit the crime, according to court documents obtained by the Journal Sentinel.
The victim recanted his identification of Smith and the case was dropped after the victim did not show up to court and was uncooperative, the newspaper reports.
In 2013, Smith was charged with retail theft, but that case as also dropped by the prosecutor.
4. The Shooting Sparked Unrest in Milwaukee That Led to Several Police Vehicles Being Damaged & Businesses Burned
The shooting led to unrest in the city Saturday night, with several buildings, including a gas station, auto-parts store, hair salon, bank and liquor stores set on fire.
Shots could be heard being fired near the scene of the shooting, and multiple police vehicles were damaged. One was set on fire and two others were hit by rocks and other debris, sending one officer to the hospital with a head injury. Three other officers were also hospitalized.
Rioters were firing shots, and first responders were unable to render aid to burning businesses, reported WTMJ.
Assistant Police Chief James Harpole said there were three people who were in the gas station when it was set ablaze, and all were able to safely escape.
As the chaos unfolded, officers got into their cars trying to leave when people in the crowd started smashing the windows of their squad cars.
Officers in riot gear moved cautiously into an intersection of the chaos later in the night, and told a crowd to disperse. Rioters reportedly threw rocks at police as they held up their shields, according to CBS.
Bus shelters were torn from the ground littering the street with shattered glass.
Crowds chased reporters and a photographer from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, punching one reporter to the ground, the newspaper reported.
Photos and videos from Sunday morning showed the damage caused by the fires:
Order was restored by Sunday morning.
Heavy spoke with a man, Tory Lowe, who was at the scene after the riots began. “This is after years of abuse by the police from 2011 until now,” one person who was at the scene, Tory Lowe, told Heavy. “It has built up for so long, and now people are acting on it.”
When asked if he condoned the violence, Lowe stated:
I don’t condone it. But I understand it. People are upset over the deaths of, let me see…we’ve got Derek Williams, James Perry, Corey Stingley, Brandon Johnson and Dontre Hamilton. Over 101 black men were illegally strip searched in Milwaukee. I’m talking pulling their pants down sticking their hands in their anal cavity with no gloves or anything. I’m talking about how bad it has been from 2011 until now.
He said citizens of Milwaukee are fighting for justice for these men, who were all killed by police or “failed by the system in Milwaukee.”
Police said there were between 200 to 800 people at the scene of the riots, but said 800 was likely a high estimate and the number was somewhere in the middle.
You can read more about the unrest at the link below:
5. A Friend Says Smith, a Victim of a Previous Shooting,’Was a Nice, Good Person’ Who Was ‘Really Respected’
A friend of Sylville Smith, Nefataria Gordon, told the Journal Sentinel that he “was a nice, good person. He was really respected. That’s why everyone came out. They’re angry.”
Smith was shot six times in a previous shooting, his family said. Details of that incident were not immediately available.
According to his Facebook page, Smith was the father of a 2-year-old son.
His mother, Mildred Haynes, told the Journal Sentinel, “My son is gone due to the police killing my son. I am lost.”
Sylville Smith’s father, Patrick Smith, told Fox 6 Now he blames gun laws and poor role models, including himself, for what happened:
Everyone playing their part in this city, blaming the white guy or whatever, and we know what they’re doing. Like, already I feel like they should have never OK’d guns in Wisconsin. They already know what our black youth was doing anyway. These young kids gotta realize this is all a game with them. Like they’re playing Monopoly. You young kids falling into their world, what they want you to do. Everything you do is programmed. I had to blame myself for a lot of things too because your hero is your dad and I played a very big part in my family’s role model for them. Being on the street, doing things of the street life: Entertaining, drug dealing and pimping and they’re looking at their dad like ‘he’s doing all these things.’ I got out of jail two months ago, but I’ve been going back and forth in jail and they see those things so I’d like to apologize to my kids because this is the role model they look up to. When they see the wrong role model, this is what you get. They got us killing each other and when they even OK’d them pistols and they OK’d a reason to kill us too. Now somebody got killed reaching for his wallet, but now they can say he got a gun on him and they reached for it. And that’s justifiable. When we allowed them to say guns is good and it’s legal, we can bear arms. This is not the wild, wild west y’all.
Patrick Smith said it’s up to the community to change.
“They targeting us, but we know about it so there’s no reason to keep saying it’s their fault. You play a part in it. If you know there’s a reason, don’t give in to the hand, don’t be going around with big guns, don’t be going around shooting each other and letting them shoot y’all cause that’s just what they’re doing and they’re out to destroy us and we’re falling for it,” he said.
You can see video of his father speaking about the shooting here.
His family and friends said they had nothing to do with the riots.
“I’m not going to say he was an angel. He was out here living his life,” his godmother, Katherine Mahmoud, told the Journal Sentinel.
“He was always kind of a troubled kid,” Darin Ware, who worked at the local Boys & Girls Club, where Smith went while growing up in the Sherman Park neighborhood of MIlwuakee.. “He was a fun kid but he was not without issue. … Without knowing all the details I don’t want to say he was at fault or the police were at fault. It’s just a shame”
Smith’s brother talked to CBS 58 about the reaction to the shooting.
“Once again the police have failed to protect us like they say they was going to do,” Smith’s brother, who did not give his name, told the news station. “If we don’t have anyone to protect us then this is what you get. You get riots. We losing loved ones everyday to the people sworn in to protect us.”
His brother said, “it’s the police. This is the madness that they spark up. This is what they provoke. This is what you get. … You taking get a lot of people that’s hurt and they can’t vent the right way. So this is what you get. … We not the one’s that killing us, ya’ll are killing us. We can’t make a change if ya’ll don’t change.”
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