MILWAUKEE — Milwaukee officials approved a $2.3 million settlement Wednesday for the child of a mentally ill black man who was fatally shot in a 2014 confrontation with a white police officer.
The Milwaukee Common Council gave its unanimous approval to settle a lawsuit brought by the family of Dontre Hamilton, who had been sleeping in a downtown Milwaukee park when Officer Christopher Manney approached him. One alderman abstained, saying he didn't believe Manney did anything wrong. Mayor Tom Barrett is expected to sign off on the settlement within the next 10 days, spokeswoman Jodie Tabak said.
Manney said Hamilton attacked him as he frisked him for weapons and that he shot the 31-year-old 14 times in self-defense. Manney said Hamilton had taken away his police baton, prompting him to open fire. Police Chief Edward Flynn said at the time that the pat-down wasn't necessary, and he fired Manney for failing to follow department rules.
The shooting happened next to City Hall, where the Common Council meets. Alderman Cavalier Johnson recalled walking past Hamilton as he slept on a park bench and said he wonders whether things would have turned out differently if he had woken him.
"I walked right past him," he recalled before the council approved the settlement. "For me, it's always weighed on me."
Alderman Bob Donovan abstained from voting.
"For me to vote in favor of this, I'd feel that somehow I would be saying, and I would be contributing to the belief, that officer Manney did something wrong," he said.
The Milwaukee County district attorney did not charge Manney in the death, and the U.S. Justice Department decided against pursuing any civil rights charges. The federal agency cited eyewitness accounts, physical evidence, Manney's testimony and input from use-of-force experts.
Since Hamilton's death, his mother, Maria Hamilton, and two brothers Nate Hamilton and Dameion Perkins, have been outspoken activists in the community, helping organize protests and successfully lobbying the mayor to better train police officers dealing with the mentally ill.
"We don't forgive the city of Milwaukee," Nate Hamilton said during a tearful news conference in the park where his brother was killed. "This settlement doesn't make us sleep better at night."
The proposed settlement follows a $2.5 million payout the Milwaukee council approved in February to a woman raped by a police officer who was responding to her 911 call in 2010. Flynn fired the officer, Ladmarald Cates, who is serving 24 years in prison for the rape.
The city also has paid $5 million to be divided among 74 black residents who claimed police illegally strip-searched them between 2008 and 2012.
The attorneys for Hamilton's son said in a statement that they plan to put the settlement money in a fund for him to receive when he becomes an adult. The statement goes on to say Hamilton's family still wants Manney to face criminal charges if additional evidence in the case surfaces.
"We still want justice," Dameion Perkins said at the news conference. "And receiving a settlement is not justice."