*Dominique Heaggan-Brown, the former Wisconsin police officer who fatally shot Sylville Smith as he chased him last August, was found not guilty of first-degree reckless homicide on Wednesday.
The jury got the case just before midday Tuesday following closing arguments from both sides.
Heaggan-Brown fired at Smith as he attempted to surrender, a prosecutor argued in the reckless homicide trial of the former Milwaukee police officer. But the former officer’s attorney countered that his client made a split-second decision to protect his life and that of another officer.
Body-camera video from another officer — played for the jury last week — showed that Heaggan-Brown shot a second bullet into Smith’s chest after the suspect hurled his weapon over a fence and had his hands near his head. Smith was on the ground when he received the fatal shot.
Heaggan-Brown and two other officers had approached Smith’s rental car because it was parked more than a foot from the curb, and police believed a drug deal was happening. But the situation quickly escalated when Smith ran.
After a brief foot chase, Smith slipped and hit the ground. Heaggan-Brown shot Smith on his right bicep as he stood and threw the gun away over a fence. He shot him again less than two seconds later, this time in the chest, when Smith fell on his back.
Heaggan-Brown faced up to 60 years in prison if convicted. Jurors were given the option to choose from two lesser charges instead — second-degree reckless homicide and homicide by negligent operation of a dangerous weapon. The lesser charges carried sentences of up to 25 years and 10 years respectively.
Although the shooting death sparked days of unrest in Milwaukee, the case is different from recent police shootings that have sparked debate about how officers interact with African Americans: Heaggan-Brown and Smith are both black and from the north side of the city where the shooting occurred.
Heaggan-Brown was fired two months after the shooting when he was charged with sexual assault in an unrelated case.