MILWAUKEE — Dominique Heaggan-Brown, the former Wisconsin police officer who fatally shot Sylville Smith during an August foot chase, was found not guilty of first-degree reckless homicide on Wednesday.
The shooting death sparked days of unrest in Milwaukee.
Heaggan-Brown fatally shot Smith as the suspect attempted to surrender, a prosecutor argued in the reckless homicide trial of the former Milwaukee police officer.
But the former officer’s attorney countered his client made a split-second decision to protect his life and that of another officer.
Heaggan-Brown, 25, could have faced 60 years in prison if convicted.
Body camera video from another officer — played for the jury last week — showed 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.
The jury heard closing arguments and deliberated about five hours Tuesday.
“Mr. Heaggan-Brown knew at the time he fired that second shot that Sylville Smith had already disarmed himself,” Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm told the jury, WISN-TV reported.
“He knew that Sylville Smith was attempting to surrender.”
But defense attorney Jonathan Smith argued his client followed training and fired the second, fatal shot because he believed his life was in danger.
“The state admits that the first shot was a justified shot,” the lawyer told the jury, according to the station.
“And our argument is that justification did not change over the course of 1.69 seconds between shots,”
The defense rested Monday after calling its lone witness, Robert Willis, an expert in police use of force, according to WISN.
Willis testified that Heaggan-Brown acted in “accordance with his training,” WTMJ-TV reported.
His testimony centered on the 1.69 seconds separating the two shots. He testified the officer’s decision to fire again was made before he even pulled the trigger.
The second shot was justified, Willis told the jury, because officers are trained to assume a suspect may have more than one weapon.
Heaggan-Brown experienced the encounter in “real time,” not in frame-by-frame motion as it was shown to the jury, Willis said, according to WTMJ.
“So when we see the trigger being pulled, we have to not consider that the moment of decision,” he said. “It’s not. We have to go back — and I can’t tell exactly how many frames but we have to go back two-tenths or three-tenths of a second — we have to go back several frames … to delve into the decision-making process that goes into firing this shot.”
Willis, who wrote the use of force manual used by Milwaukee police officers, told the jury that Heaggan-Brown justifiably responded to a “deadly threat,” WISN reported.
Last week, members of Sylville Smith’s family gasped as body camera footage of the Aug. 13 foot chase was played in court.
The reaction to the video, including sobs from Smith’s family, caused the judge to clear the courtroom.
The defense attorney called for a mistrial, saying the family’s response could influence the jury, according to WITI-TV. Judge Jeffrey Conen denied the request.
The shooting sparked days of unrest in the Sherman Park section of Milwaukee, a city long torn by racial tensions.
Heaggan-Brown was later fired from the department in an unrelated sexual assault investigation.