Man killed in police shooting ‘just trying to survive’
The man killed in a police shooting that sparked two nights of violence in Milwaukee suffered from cognitive and mental health issues. He carried a gun because he had been shot more than once in the past, his grandfather said.
Sylville Smith had a lengthy criminal past, but was just trying to survive in the inner city, William Brookins told The Associated Press.
“In this city, there’s a lot of killings going on in the street,” said Brookins, who detailed Smith’s problems in a letter to a judge last year seeking mercy for his grandson. “He was afraid for his life. He was concerned about his safety and surviving.”
Smith, 23, was shot and killed Aug. 13 after a brief foot chase that followed a traffic stop. Police say Smith was fleeing and officials have said the officer’s body camera shows Smith being shot after he turned toward the officer with a gun in his hand.
CNN reported the officer responsible for the shooting — named by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel as Dominique Heaggan — knew Sylville from high school.
A source close to the family accused the young officer, 24 — who like Sylville Smith is an African-American — of having a “personal vendetta” against Smith.
RUN-INS WITH THE LAW
Smith had several run-ins with the law dating to 2013, including speeding, driving without insurance, driving with a suspended license and having open alcohol in a vehicle.
In 2013, he was charged with felony retail theft for allegedly stealing $1,600 worth of DVDs from a Milwaukee WalMart. According to a criminal complaint, Smith and another man were seen removing fans from their boxes and putting the DVDs in the boxes. Prosecutors later dismissed the charge.
A year later, he was charged with carrying a concealed weapon without a permit, a misdemeanor. Smith pleaded guilty and was sentenced to one day in jail.
In early 2015, Smith was charged with reckless endangerment, a felony. Investigators alleged he fired on a man in retaliation for the man’s role in a fight between some girls. According to a complaint, Smith and the man got into a car chase before the man finally stopped and ran on foot. Smith chased after the man and shot at him. He eluded Smith by hiding behind a house, according to the complaint.
As that case was pending, Smith was charged with felony intimidation of a witness — the man he was accused of shooting at. Prosecutors said he had his girlfriend called the man and pressured him to recant. The man did, according to prosecutors, who dropped both cases that year.
FEAR OF BEING HURT’
Brookins described Smith as a good kid with a “beautiful personality.”
Smith was known for his hip-hop dance moves and trained in gymnastics when he was in middle school, Brookins said.
He also suffered from mental health issues, Brookins said. He said Smith had problems with “comprehension and understanding,” and that he’d spent time in special classes in elementary and middle school. In a letter to the judge in the reckless endangerment case, Brookins wrote that Smith received Social Security because of his mental health problems.
Smith had been shot on more than one occasion, Brookins said. The last time was “a few years ago” when he was hit six times in front of his mother’s house. His grandfather said Smith still carried bullet fragments in his body.
Smith started carrying a gun after that incident.
Smith’s mother, Mildred Haynes, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that her son had recently received his concealed-carry license because he had been shot twice and robbed four times, including a robbery in which he was stripped of all his clothes. “I’m not going to say he was an angel. He was out here living his life,” Smith’s godmother, Katherine Mahmoud, told the newspaper.
“It’s hard to grasp he’s no longer here,” Brookins said. “Oh, my God. This is terrible.”