The Realities Of The Derek Williams Case
Derek Williams died in the custody of the Milwaukee Police Department back in July of 2011. Last Thursday, an inquest jury recommended misdemeanor charges against three officers in connection with the death. Following the advisory verdict, the aunt of Williams said: "I feel like Martin Luther King. I feel like Malcom X. I feel like Rosa Parks. ... I feel great today. I feel like a winner."
Wow. Martin Luther King? Really?
Here's what I believe to be the reality of the Derek Williams situation.
At the outset, it is extremely unfortunate that the young man died in police custody. In this regard, I partially disagree with the comments made by the President of the Milwaukee Police Association that the three officers "did everything in their power to save that young man's life." Once they realized that Williams was really in distress, the officers certainly reacted appropriately. The problem is that they failed to accurately assess the situation in the first place.
The Inquest Jury was asked to determine if there was probable cause to believe that the three officers were guilty of failing to render aid. That is, of course, the legal standard necessary to issue charges. Before you can obtain a conviction though, a prosecutor needs to meet a much higher standard of proof - guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
In this regard, I simply don't believe there is any way that Special Prosecutor John Franke will be able to prove the three officers are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. And if the Special Prosecutor agrees with that assessment, he shouldn't bring charges.
Even if it causes some angst in some party of the community!
Let's face it, the testimony presented at the Inquest was all over the map. There were substantial conflicts between the experts on just about everything. The eyewitness testimony was also convoluted. Also, once the cops realized that Williams' was in distress, they worked diligently to save him.
The truth is that this case absolutely screams reasonable doubt.
I'm not criticizing the advisory verdict. However, one of the reasons many prosecutors don't use inquests is to avoid finding themselves in the predicament that Franke now faces. Typically, if a prosecutor believes that charges should be filed, he or she will just go ahead and file charges. Now, if Franke declines prosecution after the inquest, he can expect a political firestorm.
On the other hand,if Franke issues charges - but loses the case at trial - he can also expect a political firestorm.
In other words, Franke is in a no-win situation.
I fully expect that there will be a civil lawsuit brought against the City in connection with the death of Mr. Williams. Candidly, I don't envy the task of those who will be defending the City.
Still, a civil lawsuit is very different from a criminal prosecution. And based on what was presented at the Inquest, I think a criminal prosecution (either by State or Federal authorities) would be an extremely uphill battle.
And that's the reality of the situation.
Even if it's a reality that some people don't want to face.