MILWAUKEE (AP) — A former Milwaukee police officer on trial for killing a black man fleeing a traffic stop repeatedly commented how quickly the fatal encounter unfolded as his body camera captured the chaotic scene after the shooting.
Jurors saw the video Thursday — the first time the public has seen the events surrounding the shooting that sparked two nights of riots last year in a predominantly black neighborhood.
The bodycam video from Dominique Heaggan-Brown, 25, and another officer on the scene have been the focal point of the trial. Heaggan-Brown is facing 60 years in prison if he’s convicted of first-degree reckless homicide for the death of 23-year-old Sylville Smith.
“It happened so quick, like we just,” Heaggan-Brown said, snapping his fingers twice as he sat in a police cruiser talking to a supervisor several minutes after the shooting Aug. 13.
Heaggan-Brown was fired in October after being charged with sexual assault in an unrelated case.
Unlike other police shootings that have given rise to a national debate over how officers interact with African Americans, Smith and Heaggan-Brown are both black and from the same neighborhood where the shooting occurred.
In Heaggan-Brown’s bodycam video, he begins chasing Smith immediately after stepping out of his patrol car.
Heaggan-Brown’s camera shows Heaggan-Brown briefly pointing the gun at Smith as he begins running after him. He puts his gun back in his holster as Smith, who is holding a gun, turns into a path between two houses.
Smith slips and falls near a fence, dropping his gun. He begins reaching for it as he stands up, his left hand holding the fence.
When the video is slowed frame by frame, Smith is seen holding the gun by the barrel to throw it over the fence. Prosecutors argue that shows Smith no longer posed a threat.
The two shots by Heaggan-Brown came in quick succession — within two seconds of each other — striking Smith once in his right arm as he threw away his gun and then in the chest as he hit the ground on his back.
It was about 12 seconds from the moment Heaggan-Brown exited his vehicle to when he was standing over Smith with his firearm pointed at his body, which lay still.
Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm has told jurors that second shot was unnecessary because Smith was defenseless. But Heaggan-Brown’s attorneys say the officer was making split-second decisions and feared for his safety.
As Smith appears motionless on the ground immediately after the second shot, Heaggan-Brown yells “stop reaching” and moves Smith’s right hand away from his stomach.
Moments later, Heaggan-Brown checks to see if Smith is still alive.
“Hey man, you still there?” he says, before touching Smith’s neck to check for a pulse. After pumping Smith’s chest with his hands a few times, Heaggan-Brown looks down at his hands and asks for gloves from the arriving officers as police sirens blare.
Heaggan-Brown and two other officers had approached Smith’s rental car because it was parked more than a foot from the curb, and a man standing by Smith’s passenger door led police to believe a drug deal was happening.
“We started right off with a foot pursuit,” Heaggan-Brown told a supervisor after the shooting.
Heaggan-Brown also said Smith “looked like a known dude that fled from us plenty of times before, possibly.”
The trial is expected to conclude by the middle of next week.
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