Man killed in po­lice shoot­ing ‘just try­ing to sur­vive’

Wisconsin Gazette - - Front Page - The As­so­ci­ated Press

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.


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.


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.”


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