White Milwaukee Police Chief: Officers did not appropriately respond to Derek Williams - Allowed Black Man to Suffocate to Death after Crushing him

(graphic video, no sound for first minute). From [HEREMilwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn, a white man, acknowledged his officers didn’t appropriately respond to 22-year-old Derek Williams before his death in the back of a squad car back in July of 2011. However, Flynn said MPD has changed police procedures to make sure this doesn’t happen again. Williams died after he was picked up by Milwaukee police officers following a foot chase — suspected of an attempted robbery. Williams’ death was captured on a squad camera as he struggled to breathe for nearly 15 minutes without help. 

A Medical Examiner’s report originally indicated Williams’ cause of death as complications due to Sickle cell trait — but that report was amended, and the cause of death changed to homicide (death at the hands of another).

MPD and the Milwaukee County District Attorney concluded the officers involved did not break any rules. However, the two did call for an inquest into the Williams’ case.  Williams suffocated to death while handcuffed, naked from a strip search, in the back of a police car. He repeatedly told officers he couldn't breathe for at least 15 minutes between the time of his arrest and his death. They repeatedly ignore him as he suffocates to death. It is captured on graphic video which was released last month.

The graphic video shows a handcuffed Williams, his eyes rolled back, gasping for breath and begging for help in the back seat of a Milwaukee police car as officers ignore his pleas. Williams, his hands cuffed behind him, repeatedly begged and told officers he couldn't breathe for at least 15 minutes between the time of his arrest and his death. Officers ignored him and believed him to be acting.  Officers told internal investigators they did not hear him ask for help. In the video Williams is naked - as police had conducted a strip search before placing him in their cruiser.  

Williams, who had gotten out of jail earlier in the day after being arrested on municipal warrants for loitering, vandalism and assault, fled from police after attempting to rob a couple near the intersection of N. Holton and E. Center streets, according to the reports. He was sweating profusely when police found him hiding behind an overturned card table. Officer Richard M. Ticcioni pulled him out. Ticcioni said he believed rookie Officer Patrick Coe helped him. Ticcioni "ended up on top of Williams with the suspect facing down," according to the report of Milwaukee police Detective Luke O'Day, who interviewed Ticcioni.

Williams, his hands cuffed behind him, repeatedly told officers he couldn't breathe for at least 15 minutes between the time of his arrest and his death, according to records. He first made the complaint as he lay facedown, Ticcioni pressing a knee across his back, O'Day's report says.

"As soon as he released pressure, Williams began squirming, as if trying to break free, and reached around his right side to his right waistband (while still in handcuffs)," according to the report. Ticcioni worried that Williams was trying to grab a gun and "reapplied pressure with his right knee to prevent any further movement from the suspect," the report says.

Officers then searched Williams. No gun was found.

They got him to his feet, and "Williams immediately went limp," the report says. Ticcioni "laid him on the ground on his back and observed that he was breathing hard."

"He felt Williams was playing games and directed him to stop messing around," the report says.

A few minutes later, as officers Ticcioni and Coe were helping Williams walk toward the car, Coe left Williams' side to move a "for sale" sign that was blocking the sidewalk. When he did, Williams "pulled forward and fell face forward into the grass," the report says.

Ticcioni believed Williams was dragging his feet to make it difficult for the officers to get him to the waiting squad car, the report says.

Once locked in the back seat, Williams continued to say he could not breathe and asked officers to call him an ambulance, according to the squad video and a summary of the internal investigation. Officers Jeffrey Cline and Jason Bleichwehl, who can be heard talking on the recording, told internal investigators they did not hear Williams ask for an ambulance, the summary says. [MORE

A separate federal investigation into Williams’ death has also been announced.

During a Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission meeting held Thursday, October 18th, Chief Flynn said officers faced a crisis when handling Williams.

“We weren’t prepared. We didn’t get it right. The officers did not appropriately respond to or diagnose what was a re-existing medical condition,” Chief Flynn said.

Chief Flynn said there was a weakness in police policy because officers were not trained to specifically handle suspects with Sickle Cell Anemia.

“The officers spent 45 minutes doing CPR, but it was too late,” Chief Flynn said.

Chief Flynn said in light of Williams’ death, officers are now required to call an ambulance if a suspect asks for medical attention — but that’s not all.

“Recruits that are currently in service are receiving medical training to recognize respiratory distress,” Chief Flynn said.

Attorney Jonathan Safran, who represents the Williams family says while he commends MPD’s change of procedure, he feels Chief Flynn is making excuses.

“I’m surprised that there wasn’t a policy or procedure that if someone was complaining about not being able to breathe, that the officer would have discretion about that. I’m not sure if you can train for all of those. It would just appear that it would be somewhat obvious that if someone is complaining they can’t breathe, that emergency medical help be requested immediately,” Safran said.

Chief Flynn said officers’ training is good and even exceeded state standards. Chief Flynn says it’s just a matter of adding more procedures to make sure there are no mishaps in the future.

Also Thursday, the Milwaukee County Board Committee on Judiciary, Safety and General Services took a resolution regarding the way Milwaukee County’s Medical Examiner handles deaths occurring in police custody.

The Milwaukee County Board committee Thursday passed a resolution creating a new policy for all police-involved deaths, including who has the final say on the cause of death.

“To put new policy enhancements in place so that our Chief Medical Examiner has that final say on those high-profile cases that are police-involved deaths,” Milwaukee County Supervisor David Bowen said.

The resolution must now be approved by the full Milwaukee County Board.