Theodore Edgecomb is a Black man from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, who is claiming self-defense after being accused of homicide in the shooting death of an immigration attorney named Jason Cleereman.
Some of Edgecomb’s supporters are drawing parallels with the Kyle Rittenhouse case, in which a 17-year-old shot and killed two men in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and wounded a third. The parallel is that both men were being pursued by the men they shot (at least in one case when it comes to Rittenhouse, who shot three people). Rittenhouse was acquitted after a nationally publicized trial; Edgecomb’s trial has not yet started, but so far his case is flying beneath the national radar in comparison. Dr. John Black, a use-of-force expert in the Rittenhouse case, is also scheduled to testify in the Edgecomb trial.
The trial was postponed because the judge and others involved with the case have COVID-19, Judge David Borowski confirmed to Heavy. Borowski said he is asymptomatic. Court TV was scheduled to cover the trial, which will now be held on January 17, 2022.
Edgecomb is planning to testify that Cleereman, who was white, called him a racial slur as he charged toward him with his arm raised after making a death threat, according to WISN-TV.
Under Wisconsin law, the accused must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that they were in imminent fear for their life or great bodily harm for themselves or another at the time they opened fire. If it can be shown that the accused provoked the confrontation, the hurdles to prove self-defense are higher; the accused must have exhausted all possible avenues of escape and given adequate notice of withdrawing from the confrontation. Edgecomb is represented by attorney B’Ivory Lamarr. Heavy has reached out to Lamarr for an interview.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. The Criminal Complaint Says the Incident Started With a Swerve & Punch
Theodore Malcolm Edgecomb is charged with 1st-Degree Reckless Homicide with a dangerous weapon, felony bail jumping, and misdemeanor bail jumping in Milwaukee County Circuit Court. Online court records show that the jury trial against Edgecomb, 31, is scheduled for January 3, 2022.
Lamarr wrote on Instagram, “After careful review and consideration of the facts, and prayer, I have decided to take on a high-profile murder case and defend Theodore Edgecomb who has been charged with 1st degree intentional homicide at trial beginning on January 3rd. We believe the facts of this case strongly suggest self-defense and I look forward to dealing with the same at trial.”
Shortly after the lawyer’s death, Milwaukee police called Edgecomb the “Brady Street Killer” in a tweet.
Heavy obtained the criminal complaint from the Milwaukee County Court System. You can read it in full here: Criminal Complaint – Amended_1 – Edgecomb, Theodore Malcolm. It contends:
“On September 22, 2020, City of Milwaukee Police Officers were dispatched to the area of 1750 N. Holton Street, City and County of Milwaukee, State of Wisconsin for a shooting. Upon arrival, Officers located the victim Jason Cleereman lying face down at the top of the staircase that leads down to Water Street. The victim had an apparent gunshot wound above his left eyebrow. The victim died of his injuries.”
The detective found a single fired 9mm cartridge casing and saw Cleereman’s vehicle parked on Holton Street. It had been driven by Cleereman’s wife, and the passenger window was rolled almost completely down, with blood on the top of the window.
In addition to the single gunshot wound to Cleereman’s left eyebrow, the autopsy determined there were also blunt force injuries to Cleereman’s face, including a blackened right eye, laceration above his right eyebrow, abrasions to the left side of his face, left arm, and the top of his left hand.
Cleereman’s wife, Evanjelina Cleereman, told police she was “driving her husband in their car westbound on Brady Street, City and County of Milwaukee, State of Wisconsin. EC stated that both her driver’s side window and the victim’s passenger side window were down.”
She saw Edgecomb on a bicycle and had to swerve to miss him. Jason Cleereman said, “What the heck!” They stopped at a light, at which time Edgecomb “pulled alongside them on the passenger side, leaned into the front passenger window and asked the victim, ‘are you talking to me?’” Cleereman responded yes, and Edgecomb then punched him and continued westbound on Brady, the complaint says.
They saw the suspect turn, and so Cleereman told her to turn northbound on Holton and then got out of the car at the intersection. He “approached the suspect, who still had his bicycle,” the criminal complaint alleges. “EC stated that she saw the suspect had a firearm and that she yelled to the victim about the firearm but that he did not hear her. EC stated that she saw the suspect shoot her husband, the victim. EC stated that the suspect looked at her, as though he was contemplating shooting her.” He then left on his bicycle.
The complaint says that Milwaukee police recovered multiple security videos. A Milwaukee police pole camera shows “the victim’s vehicle pull up and the victim exits his vehicle and approaches the suspect. As the victim reaches out, the victim suddenly falls to the ground. The pole camera footage then shows the suspect carry his bicycle down the stairs,” the complaint says.
Edgecomb was identified by the mother of his children and his relatives from video stills. In one video, he appears “to pull his shirt over a bulge in his waistband, consistent with a firearm,” the complaint says. The bicycle was recovered in a search warrant, as was a 9mm handgun, the complaint says.
However, that’s the authorities account. The story doesn’t end there.
2. Edgecomb’s Attorneys Released a Video They Say Shows Cleereman Chasing Him Down; Court Filings Accuse Cleereman of Using a Racial Slur as He Threatened to Kill Edgecomb
Edgecomb’s attorneys have released a new video they claim proves self-defense; it shows the Cleereman vehicle following Edgecomb before Cleereman gets out of it and moves toward him on a sidewalk. He is gaining ground and speed and gets very close to Edgecomb when Edgecomb opens fire, the video, aired by CBS 58, shows.
In court filings, Edgecomb’s attorneys have questioned the state’s theory in the case, attacking it on multiple fronts.
“After reviewing the case file and discovery materials, a much clearer picture and sequence of events establishes a credible self-defense claim and cuts against the state’s theory that this was a ‘road rage’ incident,” the defense lawyers wrote in a September 2021 filing obtained by WISN-TV.
According to WISN-TV, Edgecomb’s lawyers say he will take the stand to tell jurors that Cleereman “was the aggressor and rushed toward him in a fighting stance, yelling a death threat with a racial slur attached.”
“I’m going to kill you now, (slur)” the court documents say Edgecomb will testify Cleereman said before raising his arm. WISN-TV reported that the police reports say authorities found a folding knife in Cleereman’s pocket.
The defense attorneys released a photo of Cleereman’s knife.
Further, according to WISN-TV, the defense attorneys claim that Cleereman’s toxicology reports show he was legally drunk. “Mr. Edgecomb will testify at trial that given the nighttime hours and that it was dark outside, he saw (Cleereman) reach for his pockets before he shot him once,” Edgecomb’s lawyers wrote in the filing, according to WISN-TV. “While he did not see the knife, as it was in (Cleereman’s) pocket, he had the reasonable belief that (Cleereman) was armed, which is confirmed by the evidence in the case.” A witness saw Cleereman in a boxer stance “with his hands up appearing to want to fight,” WISN-TV reported. Heavy has requested the full defense briefs from Edgecomb’s lawyer.
“The criminal complaint omits critical information and mischaracterizes the facts of this case. The current narrative of the case is distorted and inaccurate,” the lawyers wrote, according to WISN-TV.
In a press release posted to Facebook, Tanya Wiley of WCP COmmunications wrote, “Theodore Edgecomb will be tried because he defended himself against what he perceived to be an imminent threat by Jason Cleereman (‘white man’) who appeared to be inebriated, hurling threats and chasing Mr. Edgecomb down with a car driven by his wife.”
3. Edgecomb’s Mother Describes Him as a ‘Very Humble Person’ & His Lawyer Says Self-Defense Is ‘Clear’
Lamarr, Edgecomb’s lawyer, said in a December 8, 2021, press conference, that there was “immense public interest in this case” but that he wanted to wait until trial to present all of the facts.
“There has been substantial adverse publicity in this case to Mr. Edgecomb,” said Lamarr. “We believe this is a clear case of self-defense.”
He said Edgecomb’s team maintains “confidence” in the criminal justice system. Edgecomb remains in “high spirits,” he said.
Sonya Gordon, Edgecomn’s mother, said in the news conference, “…My son is a very humble person and anybody who knows him knows this is not his character.”
Community activists spoke at length during the news conference.
“We all see this… for what it is,” said Vaun Mayes, a community activist in Milwaukee who is on pretrial release on a federal charge, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “We once against must make a demand that justice be equal and balanced for some as it seems too often to be for others. Theodore Edgecomb should be entitled to self-defense…he clearly at multiple points during the video that we’ve seen made attempts to avoid or flee the situation.”
Mayes added: “Self-defense is not an excuse in this case, but it is a reason.” He said he considered Cleereman’s actions “threatening,” and questioned why he didn’t call police. “This is the pursuit of a man on a bike on a downtown street by a man and a woman in a vehicle,” said Mayes.
“Is self defense reserved for certain individuals in this state?” said Mayes, referencing the Rittenhouse case.
“It’s clear that he was preyed upon,” said Elizabeth Brown, community activist, in the press conference. She said Black men are “massively incarcerated” in Wisconsin. “…He was being pursued…” She released several photos of Edgecomb.
Brown, host Of The Power Hour at WGLB Radio Station, wrote on LinkedIn that Theodore Edgecomb “is a hands on black father now fighting for his life the news has depicted him as a criminal now it’s our turn to tell the truth he is college educated, baseball little league coach, he created a nonprofit for black boys called RAP ( Restoring Anointed Paths) he was active in the community helping were he could now he is fighting for his rights after fighting for his life on the Holton bridge the wicked has lies, now the truth will be seen we ask you to share these images of who he truly is a Black man, son, father, brother, nephew, cousin, neighbor and he has every right to fight for his life when hunted.”
She referred to the “’Ken and Karen’ Culture of Amerikkka.”
Edgecomb’s mother spoke with community activist Tory Lowe.
“Everybody jumped the gun and went with what they heard, the first thing they heard, instead of finding out the truth,” she said to Lowe. She added: “…This is not his character.”
4. People Have Supported Both Edgecomb & Cleereman in the Milwaukee Community & Online
Some members of the Milwaukee community have held a rally in support of Edgecomb.
“When the Kyle Rittenhouse verdict was reached, many people across the nation questioned whether or not this same defense would render similar results for a person of color,” wrote Marquise Hibbler Sr. on Facebook. “Now, in Wisconsin, a black man will see whether or not the police, judge, court and mainstream media will wrap their arms around him as they did with Kyle Rittenhouse.”
Milwaukee NAACP President Clarence Nicholas said in a press release posted to Facebook: “As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., stated in 1963, there are five essentials to a healthy community – employment, education, housing, health care and social justice. If one of those essentials is missing a community is not healthy. We want to see social justice in this matter, as we saw what was called social justice in the Kyle Rittenhouse case.”
However, Cleereman also received support, especially at the time of his death. A GoFundMe page raised more than $40,000 to help his family. “Jason, a Milwaukee local, was about changing the community for the greater good. Seeking social justice and serving immigrants looking for political asylum for a better chance of becoming an American citizen,” the page reads.
“Jason gave up the high paying jobs at a law firm and instead had his own practice where he only charged people what they could afford, and he often didn’t charge them at all. He started a farmer’s market to help his Asian clients to farm and sell their own produce. He was a hero to the Latino community in Milwaukee and lived a life of service. He lived very modestly because he didn’t charge people enough, and now his family is in need.”
The page continues, “Jason put everyone’s needs before his own and was the sole provider for his family. He is survived by his loving wife Angie, and two children Amelia & Jack.”
A man named Ricardo Garcia wrote on the GoFundMe page, “Jason was a great man, he helped me in my immigration process. He would brighten anyones day with his smile and security. We will always remember him. The best immigration lawyer in milwaukee! May God comfort his family in this time of grief in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.”
The family of Rubio Fletes wrote, “Jason was a great lawyer but an even better person. Although he was a busy man, he always had time to answer any question or concern to put us at ease. Always willing to help. Always with a great sense of humor.”
According to his obituary on Legacy.com, Cleereman “was involved with the Walkers Square Farmers Market and The Southside Organizing Committee.”
CBS 58 reported that Cleereman was an Army veteran and quoted his sister, Vanessa Maldonado, as saying, “He worked tirelessly in his community because he wanted it to be safe for his kids and his wife there. I hope he knows what impact he made on everybody, too, because he really was just wonderful.”
At the time, CBS 58 reported, three alderpeople released a statement. Alderman José G. Pérez, Alderman Nik Kovac and Alderwoman JoCasta Zamarripa said in part, according to CBS 58, “Anyone who met Jason instantly knew how much he cared about his family, friends and the community. His law firm worked to support families through the immigration process, and he was never afraid to speak up on their behalf. This loss will be felt particularly hard on the near Southside where Jason was an active resident always working to better the area for others.”
5. Edgecomb Had Pending Charges When the Shooting Occurred
Edgecomb’s criminal history becomes relevant due to the bail jumping charges, although it won’t factor in to his claims of self-defense, which revolve around assessing what happened in the seconds before he fired and whether his belief that he was in danger was reasonable.
He is currently in the Milwaukee County Jail on $250,000 bail.
He has an open case out of nearby Waukesha County, Wisconsin, for a string of charges – Causing injury while drunk driving, carrying a concealed weapon, disorderly conduct, resisting an officer, operating a firearm while intoxicated and causing injury while operating with a PAC over allowed limits, all misdemeanors. Commissioner Martin Binn released him on $250 bail in that case. His attorney asserted and then withdrew a not guilty by insanity claim, and the case is now scheduled for a plea and sentencing in February 2021. He wasn’t supposed to possess a dangerous weapon as a condition of bail.
A 2019 felony case against him in Milwaukee for substantial battery and disorderly conduct as a domestic abuse incident was dismissed when the state’s witness failed to appear. The case wound its way through a backlogged Milwaukee court system for a year and a half. He was released on $1,500 bail and the case was still active at the time of the shooting, hence the bail jumping charge for it.
He does not have a felony record. In the past, he was cited for disorderly conduct, was convicted of misdemeanor carrying a concealed weapon, a restraining order was issued against him, and he had several paternity cases.
Jason Cleereman did not have a criminal history in Wisconsin. He did have two delinquent tax warrants filed against him as well as a workers’ compensation action.
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