The Right Result In The Derek Williams Case


The Right Result In The Derek Williams Case

CREATED Mar 28, 2013

I know that it will be unpopular in some circles.  Still, Special Prosecutor John Franke's decision to not issue criminal charges in connection with the death of Derek Williams is absolutely the right call.

Derek Williams is, of course, the young man who died in the custody of the Milwaukee Police Department.  An initial review by authorities found no basis to issue criminal charges against against of the police officers involved.  After video from a dashboard camera was made public and the matter became a bit of a cause celebre for the local newspaper, a Special Prosecutor was appointed to look at the case.

An inquest was subsequently held.  At its conclusion, the inquest jury issued an advisory verdict recommending that charges be issued against three officers. The Special Prosecutor has - correctly - declined to follow the recommendation.

In my opinion, the officers involved in the Derek Williams arrest screwed up.  They obviously believed that he was faking his claims of distress (like many people do upon being taken into custody).  When the officers realized that Williams was truly in distress, they did everything possible to save him.

This is hardly the stuff that criminal prosecutions are made of.

The inquest jury found that there was probable cause to believe that three officers committed a crime.  Fine.  That's the standard of proof for issuing charges.  Proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt is quite another matter.

I've always believed that it is improper and potentially unethical for a prosecutor to bring charges if they don't believe that they can obtain a conviction. ...  And the truth is that this case screams reasonable doubt for a variety of reasons.

Some are speculating that Federal authorities might get involved and bring the matter before a Grand Jury.  Don't count on it.  Unless there's some dramatic evidence that hasn't yet been made public, I see very little evidence which would support a civil rights prosecution.

As I've said before, I have no doubt that there will be a lawsuit against the City alleging negligence on the part of the MPD in connection with the death of Derek Williams.  My instinct is that any such suit will have a ton of merit.

That said, a civil lawsuit is very different from a criminal prosecution - and this simply isn't a criminal matter.

In other words, Special Prosecutor John Franke got this one right!