As reported yesterday on the Samster, Konkel & Safran, S.C. website, special prosecutor John Franke has reportedly decided not to charge three Milwaukee Police Department (“MPD”) officers involved in the death of Derek Williams under Wisconsin’s failure to render aid law. Mr. Franke reportedly told the family of Mr. Williams that he did not think that he could prove the MPD officers had the intent to harm Mr. Williams, despite the fact that an Inquest jury issued an advisory verdict recommending charges be brought against the three MPD officers.
Former Wisconsin State Representative Spencer Coggs, a Milwaukee legislator who sponsored the failure to render aid law, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the law was specifically designed for situations like the death of Mr. Williams. Wisconsin legislators passed the law years ago in response to the death of Ernest Lacy in MPD custody. “What we were trying to do is make sure if a person was in custody, the person was at least in a safe environment from a health standpoint,” Mr. Coggs stated. “In the Lacy case and in the Williams case, that just didn’t happen.” It has been reported that Wisconsin State Senator Lena Taylor of Milwaukee is working on a bill that would make changes to the law, removing the intent element so that a police officer could be liable if the officer simply neglected to render aid. Senator Taylor is also reported to be considering proposed changes the law where it would be a felony if a person dies due to a police officer’s failure to render aid.
SKS Attorney Jonathan S. Safran, who represents the three young children of Derek Williams along with their mother, told the Journal Sentinel that it is his belief that Mr. Franke is misinterpreting the law. According to Inquest jury instructions submitted by Mr. Franke, and possibly being used by him in deciding whether to issue criminal charges, a police officer violates the failure to render aid law if the officer “knew that first aid was necessary and either had the purpose of causing bodily harm or was aware the his conduct was practically certain to cause bodily harm.” Attorney Safran explained that he believes that the law does not require the intent to cause harm. It is his interpretation that the only intent requirement under the law is that the police officer intentionally fails to render aid. In the Derek Williams case, the three MPD officers admitted that they intentionally failed to render aid to Mr. Williams, because they erroneously believed that he was faking his medical condition. Read more about the Derek Williams case in the Journal Sentinel here.
The civil rights attorneys of Samster, Konkel & Safran, S.C. remain hopeful that Mr. Franke will decide to charge the MPD officers involved in the death of Derek Williams. We also hope that the United States Department of Justice decides soon to conduct a review to determine whether there is a pattern and practice of civil rights violations within the MPD, so that future civil rights violations, like the one suffered by Derek Williams, can be avoided.