Dear District Attorney John Chisholm and Chief Deputy District Attorney Kent Lovern,
The community is deeply disturbed by your decision to rule the shooting of Jerry Smith Jr., by Milwaukee Police Officers Adam Stahl and Melvin Finkley, justified. Officers Stahl and Finkley should be held accountable for their actions.
In this case, like in many others, there has been a lack of transparency around the investigation.The community, has been anticipating a decision from your office since the shooting occurred on Aug. 31, 2017.
However, on Nov. 23, 2018 we learned about the decision that was made June 2018 through social media and other news outlets. To learn of the decision five months later shows a complete disregard and lack of respect for Smith, his family and the community. Why did your office not issue a press statement or host a press conference when the decision was made? Does the community not deserve transparency?
In other cases of police misconduct and officer involved shootings (i.e., the murder of Dontre Hamilton in 2014), press conferences have been held where details have been shared about investigations and explanations of rulings provided to the community. As the city of Milwaukee and the Milwaukee Police Department continue to fail in holding police officers accountable for shooting unarmed black people, continuity in their public response to such incidents is expected. The lack of a public response from your office and other city officials is inadequate.
Thankfully, the shooting of Jerry Smith Jr. was not fatal. However, the injuries and the trauma he, his family and friends, and our community continue to suffer is ongoing. This incident has now gained national attention, once again highlighting not only lack of transparency within the city, but also the continuing erosion of trust between the police and the community.
We understand it is your office’s responsibility to prosecute violations of state laws. According to the decision made by your office, neither officer violated state law in shooting Smith, who was unarmed and who did not threaten the life of either officer. Your ruling is a clear and continual reminder that your office, along with other public agencies, is a part of the problem.
The Common Council’s Steering and Rules Committee filed a communication and asked that someone from your office be present along with the Milwaukee Police Department at its meeting on Dec. 6, 2018. Subsequently, we were told no one from your office was available to attend the meeting, nor was a statement issued from your office. It is disappointing and challenging to live in a city where the community does not hear from the District Attorney, Office of the Mayor, Milwaukee Police Department, Fire and Police Commission, or other city officials in response to yet another police involved shooting of an unarmed person, most of whom have been black men. Time and time again, the community listens to public and elected officials in our city say they will be transparent and participatory in police reform efforts. Yet, we find ourselves repeating and demanding the same message of transparency and accountability.
Once again, we are demanding that your office addresses the community publicly about the shooting of Jerry Smith Jr., as it should become common practice in all police-involved shootings, whether fatal or non-fatal, that your office rules on.
The Office of the City Attorney works for the people, and should be readily available to serve with the highest level of professionalism and integrity. We look forward to your response, and to a further discussion about the the safety and protection of our community.
Director of the African American Roundtable
African American Roundtable unifies a network of powerful partners in Milwaukee around achieving shared goals to build a thriving community through civic engagement. We collaborate and support each other to demonstrate people power to amplify the voices of our community to nurture leadership, promote racial equity and accessibility, relationships, and transparent policies that will radically change the lives of African-Americans.
- Open letter to District Attorney’s office - December 8, 2018
- What direction is the Fire and Police Commission going? - June 21, 2018
- The community needs to hear from the Mayor regarding his “different direction for Fire and Police Commission” - April 27, 2018