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Verdicts & Settlements

Settlement Reached in Civil Rights Lawsuit After Detainee’s Death

— May 27, 2019

Derek Williams’ family rceives a $2 million settlement after he passes away in the back of a squad car.

Derek Williams passed away begging for help and gasping for air in the back of a Milwaukee police squad car.  Now, his family is set to receive a $2 million settlement in a civil rights lawsuit filed against the city.  Williams died in July 2011, and it took three years for the two parties to agree on a resolution.  The lawsuit was filed in 2016.

Settlement funds will be paid to Williams’ three children – ages 8, 9 and 10.  “The children and their mother still celebrate Williams’ birthday and regularly visit his grave,” according to Milwaukee-based attorney Jon Safran, whose firm represented Williams’ family alongside the People’s Law Office of Chicago in the civil rights case.

Settlement Reached in Civil Rights Lawsuit After Detainee's Death
Photo by Jack Hunter on Unsplash

“This settlement provides educational benefits, as well as compensating them to some degree and helping them know that at least there’s some justice,” Safran said. “At least Derek’s children will have some financial benefits, even though they’ll be dealing with the death of their father for the rest of their lives.”  He added, “Going to trial would not help the family nor the residents of the city of Milwaukee heal behind that incident.  And I think this is the appropriate approach to dealing with what happened, and we’re hoping that changes are made so that these incidents don’t happen again.”

A squad car video showing Williams, 22, struggling to breathe led to protests in Milwaukee, and this footage has played a pivotal role in the public’s response to police shootings and police-custody fatalities nationwide.  The initial investigations into Williams’ death, led by Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm, the Milwaukee Police Department and the city’s Fire and Police Commission, cleared the officers involved of any wrongdoing.

Chisholm reopened the case, however, named a special prosecutor, and sought an inquest after a subsequent media investigation caused the medical examiner’s office to change its ruling in the death from natural to homicide.  The inquest jury recommended misdemeanor charges of “failure to render aid by law enforcement” against three officers involved – Richard Ticcioni, Jeffrey Cline and Jason Bleichwehl.  Special Prosecutor John Franke chose not to charge them, and ultimately, no officers were blamed for the man’s death.

“They wouldn’t want someone to do that to their child, so why would they do it to mine?” asked Williams’ mother, Sonya Moore. “They just sat back and acted like they didn’t have a soul.”

“It cannot be overemphasized that members shall continually monitor and remain cognizant of the condition of a person in custody, especially when he/she is in restraints,” according to the department’s Standard Operating Procedures. “The arrestee may encounter immediate or delayed physical reactions that may be triggered by the change in physical or environmental factors.”

However, Chisholm said the department only needs to examine what can be done to prevent similar deaths in the future, stating, “It’s not a criminal misconduct question, but it’s certainly a relevant training question.”

The Common Council also recently approved a $2.3 million civil rights settlement in the 2010 death of James Franklin who also passed in police custody.  Perry, 41, told Milwaukee police when he was arrested, he had taken his daily anti-seizure medication.  Eighteen hours later, he died of an epileptic seizure at the Milwaukee County Jail.  Perry’s family will receive nearly $1 million from Milwaukee County.


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$2 million settlement reached in Derek Williams’ squad car death

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