Two Years After Derek Williams’ Death In Police Custody, Search For Justice Continues

Five protesters were arrested last week in Milwaukee during a demonstration demanding police accountability for the death of Derek Williams, a Black male.
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    FILE - In this March 29, 2013 file photo, Sharday Rose, 24, poses in Milwaukee with a photo of her boyfriend, Derek Williams, who died in 2011 in police custody while gasping for breath. Rose, whose boyfriend died after pleading for help from Milwaukee police who had the gasping man in custody, is considering filing a lawsuit, her lawyer said Tuesday, May 28, 2013, after the U.S. Justice Department announced that the officers would not face federal charges. (AP Photo/Dinesh Ramde, File)

    Sharday Rose, 24, poses in Milwaukee with a photo of her boyfriend, Derek Williams, who died in 2011 in police custody while gasping for breath. (AP/Dinesh Ramde)

    Five protesters were arrested last week in Milwaukee during a demonstration demanding police accountability for the death of Derek Williams, a Black male who suffocated to death in the back of a police car in July 2011.

    “I want everyone to know I’m not stopping at the fed’s decision. I told Chief Flynn I’m not stopping! The tears we shed were real, and the pain we felt watching the autopsy over and over was real. I could see where they peeled back his skin and there were marks on his back from kneeling on him and breaking his neck. And they can’t charge these officers for killing my nephew!” said Williams’ aunt, according to Fight Back News.

    The case elicited national attention after a police dashboard camera was released showing Williams writhing and calling out for help.

    “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe!” he yelled.

    Police ignored Williams’ calls for help saying, “You’re just playing games.” Williams continued to plead for help, finally passing out after 10 minutes.

    After being cleared of any wrongdoing at the state and the federal level, Williams’ relatives and supporters continue to demand justice for a death that many believe is indicative of civil rights violations and broad police abuse.

    The demonstration last week was the latest organized by members of “Justice for Derek Williams,” a Facebook group with more than 2,200 likes.

    “Five protesters were arrested for violations such as ‘standing in roadway,’ yet not a single police officer has been held responsible for breaking the neck of Derek Williams and refusing to help him while he begged for help for over ten minutes, handcuffed and suffocating in the back of an MPD squad car,” said one demonstrator.

    Family and friends appear to be running out of options in the long search for justice. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported in May that the three officers involved in the July 2011 arrest — Richard Ticcioni, Jeffrey Cline and Jason Bleichwehl — were cleared of all federal charges. They had previously been cleared of any wrongdoing at the state level.

    An outside medical investigation revealed that the cause of death was undetermined, although video shows that officer Ticcioni put his knee across Williams’ back during the arrest, a maneuver that follows police procedure.

    “The investigation did not reveal any evidence that the officers had notice of Mr. Williams’ medical need, and the officers stated in the course of this investigation that they did not know that he had that need,” said James Santelle from the U.S. attorney’s office.

    A distraught mother responded with grief to the decision.

    “I’m hurt because everyone who has seen that tape knows that it was wrongdoing and for everybody not to do their job it just hurts. I still can’t sleep,” said Williams’ mother in a statement to Fox 6 Milwaukee.

    With few options, the family could turn to a civil trial, where they could attempt to recover monetary compensation for the death.

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