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Lawyer For Chris Manney Argues Officer Was Fired Unfairly After Hamilton Shooting

Commission Hearing Could Last Several Days


The national focus on police officer shootings of African-American men has shifted to Milwaukee for the next few days, with the start of an appeals hearing for former patrolman Christopher Manney, a fired white officer who wants his job back.

Manney killed Dontre Hamilton during an altercation at a downtown Milwaukee park last April. It appears Manney won’t face criminal charges, but he was fired last fall for violating police rules on performing a pat-down search and not waiting for backup before engaging with Hamilton.

Attorney Mark Thomsen is representing Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn. During opening arguments in Manney’s appeals hearing, Thomsen said the evidence will show Manney thought Hamilton was homeless but did not have reason to frisk the unarmed, mentally ill man.

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“He was essentially profiling all homeless persons or persons with mental illness as dangerous,” Thomsen said. “Essentially, you will hear where he will say ‘Generally, we know that homeless folks have knifes, generally homeless folks may have a weapon.’”

Thomsen later played audio of Manney speaking in August to police department investigators about interacting with Hamilton. Manney said he saw bulges in Hamilton’s pockets.

“Usually they can keep knives there, or all of their paperwork%mdash;driver’s license, things like that. But either way, I wasn’t even that far into it at this point. At this point I just had somebody who was acting very strange and I wanted to get to know his name and I wanted to calm him,” Manney said on the recording.

Manney’s attorney Jonathan Cermele said in his opening statement that his client had plenty of reasonable suspicion to conduct the patdown search.

“Why? Number one, Officer Manney had authority to question Mr. Hamilton. He was responding to a lawfully-given assignment by the PD,” Cermele said. “Number two, Mr. Hamilton, for all intents and purposes, was sleeping in a public park. that is prohibited by the county’s General Ordinances”

Cermele also suggested Police Department command staff unfairly reviewed Manney’s actions.

Dontre Hamilton’s family sat in the municipal courtroom during the hearing, and afterwards Dontre’s brother Nathaniel Hamilton said he isn’t worried about the defense casting doubt on the investigation.

“We expect them to try to sway the opinions of the commissioners, but they have a lot of swaying to do because the people, including myself, have spent eight months, or so, giving them the truth,” Hamilton said.

Security is tight in the facility, which is also the police administration building. Officers are everywhere and only about 50 members of the public can be in the courtroom. An additional 100 people, largely Hamilton supporters, watched on closed-circuit television down the hall.

Brian Verdin said he was on hand, because he’s worried about how the police treat his five bi-racial sons.

“In fact, one of my sons, it’s a standing joke because he gets stopped on Center Street while walking, walking while black,” Verdin said. “So anytime one of our citizens gets killed at the hands of the police, who are supposed to protect and serve, it’s a big concern to me.”

Angela Walker said she came to watch the proceedings as part of a wake-up call on the need for community involvement.

“Particularly now here in Wisconsin, with all the things that have been coming at us out of Madison, I think that it’s important for people to realize that we fell asleep,” Walker said.

Testimony in the Christopher Manney appeal may continue for several days . Three fire and police commissioners reviewing the case have to decide if manney broke Department rules and, if so, whether the firing was appropriate.