Dontre Hamilton, 31, was shot and killed by a Milwaukee police officer at Red Arrow Park on April 30, 2014; just one week after Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed a new law that now requires independent investigations for police-related deaths.
The bills says this applies to deaths that happen when an officer is either on duty or off duty, but are performing activities that are within the scope of his or her law enforcement duties. Internal investigations can still occur, but they may not interfere with the external investigation. This will be the first instance that this new law will be applied.
There are conflicting reports about what actually happened between Dontre and the officer. Some accounts state that Dontre was not panhandling and he was resting on the ground in the park. A police officer approached him around 3:30 p.m. and helped him up from the ground. The officer started a pat down and a struggle began. Dontre eventually got the officer’s baton away from him. Some reports say Dontre was hitting the officer with the baton. Then, the officer pulled out his firearm and shot Dontre several times. Attorney Michael Hupy heard the shots from his office less than a block away and said they came in rapid succession.
Although more information has yet to be released, there are currently more questions than answers about this tragedy. At this point, the general consensus from reports say the officer fired between 5-10 shots at Dontre. Did the officer try to verbally warn Dontre to drop the baton? Why did he shoot so many times? Red Arrow Park is extremely close to City Hall—there are numerous officers in the vicinity. Reports state that additional officers were at the scene minutes after Dontre was shot. Why didn’t the officer call for backup?
On Friday, May 2, friends and family of Dontre congregated for a rally and a vigil at Red Arrow Park. Hupy and Abraham, S.C. spoke with Nate Hamilton, Dontre’s older brother. Nate shared his thoughts on the events that resulted in Dontre’s death and gave some insight about who his brother was. “He wasn’t an outrageous person—he didn’t have an anger issue ... he was more scared of someone doing something to him than him doing something to someone else. He was concerned about people.”
Dontre was a paranoid schizophrenic and suffered from auditory hallucinations.
“Mental health is around, it’s alive, and we need to support the people through it,” Nate Hamilton told us. “We just want some answers.”
Nate said that no one had been in contact with his family. “We just want it to be fair. We should know everything. We should know who that officer is, we should know what happened at the scene, how many times he was shot. The medical examiner finished the autopsy—and no one has contacted us yet.”
Dontre did not have access to his medication for a few months prior to his death. His outreach program claimed that he was uninsured—the Hamilton family says that wasn’t true, and Dontre did have insurance. A worker from the mental health system saw Dontre on April 28 and declared that he would get help. Maria Hamilton, Dontre’s mother, learned that Dontre was eligible for a new anti-psychotic injection 15 minutes before his death.
“We’re just looking for the truth out of this whole situation.” Nate said.
Maria thinks the mental health system failed her son. If he had received his medication, he would most likely still be alive today. That, coupled with the actions of the officer, again raises more questions about the situation.
In 2003, Hupy and Abraham, S.C. represented Curtis Harris in a police brutality case that left the man an incomplete quadriplegic. Harris does not have the use of his four limbs, but he feels pain 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Harris was awarded $3 million dollars; the officer that rammed Harris’ head into a wall was not fired. Although Harris did not pass away as a result of his unlawful abuse, there are numerous signs showing that Dontre Hamilton did not have to die in that park.
While the community waits for more information about the investigation to surface, Hupy and Abraham, S.C. sends its thoughts to the Hamilton family that tragically lost a brother and son.