(MILWAUKEE) The family of a mentally ill black man who was fatally shot in a 2014 confrontation with a white police officer in a downtown Milwaukee park filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the city, Police Department and former officer Christopher Manney.
The federal civil rights lawsuit says the department engaged in unconstitutional policies and practices that caused Dontre Hamilton’s death. The family is seeking unspecified damages.
Nate Hamilton said no amount of money will bring his brother back, but that the lawsuit can make officers more conscious of their actions. “The taxpayers have to reap what the police officers have sowed,” he said at a news conference.
“We are the ones that take responsibility for the failure in law enforcement,” he added. “And how often do we want to be the people that take responsibility for that? Do you want to continue paying families millions of dollars?”
The shooting on April 30, 2014, sparked months of protests that coincided with demonstrations around the nation over black men killed by police. Hamilton’s family has said he was schizophrenic, but not violent.
He was shot 14 times after Manney responded to a complaint of a man sleeping in the park. Manney has said Hamilton took away his police baton and attacked him and that he opened fire in self-defense. Manney was never charged in the shooting, but he was fired after Police Chief Ed Flynn said the decision to frisk Hamilton was wrong.
Manney filed a post-traumatic stress disorder claim and now receives disability pay.
“As the two-year anniversary of the shooting death of Dontre approaches,” attorney Jonathan Safran said in a statement that accompanied the lawsuit, “the family is left with one final avenue to obtain accountability and justice for this tragedy. We have, therefore, filed this civil lawsuit.”
Sgt. Tim Gauerke, a Milwaukee police spokesman, said in an email that the department doesn’t comment on pending litigation. City attorney Grant Langley said by phone that he hasn’t seen the lawsuit and declined comment. Jon Cermele, an attorney for Manney, didn’t return an email or phone call seeking comment.
In December, Milwaukee police entered into an agreement with the U.S. Justice Department to implement reforms. DOJ officials have promised a deep review that will result in a team of experts working with police officers, community members and civil rights groups to try to make the Milwaukee department a national model.
Hamilton’s family members have said they’re skeptical of a reform process that involves a department they see as fundamentally broken.
“I really haven’t seen any progress in the policing of black people in Milwaukee,” his mother, Maria Hamilton, said at Wednesday’s news conference, adding later, “We’re fed up.”