Wisconsin Law Designed To Hold Officers Accountable For Deaths In Police Custody Never Used

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Explore:  Police

Back in 1981, Ernest Lacy died in the back of a Milwaukee Police Department (“MPD”) wagon. Even though police officers denied striking Mr. Lacy, the medical examiner found more than 30 cuts and bruises on his body. In response to Mr. Lacy’s death, Wisconsin passed a law requiring police officers to render aid to persons in their custody. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is reporting that, in the 30 years since the law was passed, no police officer has ever been prosecuted under the law.   

As an example, Derek Williams died in MPD custody in July 2011. Squad car video from the incident shows Mr. Williams struggling to breathe and begging MPD officers for assistance. After the medical examiner ruled Mr. Williams’ death a homicide, a special prosecutor was appointed to conduct an inquest to determine if the policed officers failed to render aid to Mr. Williams. The special prosecutor instructed the inquest jury that, to charge a police officer under the failure to render aid law, the officer must have intended harm to result, or have been practically certain that harm would result. Samster, Konkel & Safran, S.C. Attorney Jonathan S. Safran, who represents the three young children of Mr. Williams, along with their mother, told the Journal Sentinel that it is his opinion that the special prosecutor’s jury instruction was wrong, and that the only intent requirement under the law is that the police officer intentionally failed to render aid. Even with the special prosecutor’s higher standard, the inquest jury recommended charging three officers with failing to render aid to Mr. Williams. Despite this recommendation, the special prosecutor declined to issue charges.