MILWAUKEE (AP) – A man shot and killed by a police officer after a struggle in a popular downtown park had schizophrenia, Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn said Thursday, as he called for more help for people with mental illness.
“Every year families continue to suffer, and individuals continue to suffer, and people are at risk because individuals cannot get the treatment they need to lead functioning lives,” Flynn said at a news conference.
Flynn identified the man as 31-year-old Dontre Hamilton and said Hamilton had been had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, had heard voices in his head and had previously attempted suicide. Hamilton had a lengthy arrest record that included armed robbery and disorderly conduct, the chief added. He believed the behavior that led to the arrests stemmed from the man’s mental health problems.
Hamilton’s family indicated he was recently in a form of mental crisis and had trying to get him help, Flynn said. Attempts to reach relatives of Hamilton’s through multiple phone numbers associated with him were not successful Thursday.
Flynn said previously the 38-year-old officer who walked the local beat went to the park across the street from City Hall Wednesday at about 3:30 p.m. after receiving a call for help and found a man on the ground. The officer, a 13-year veteran of the force, helped Hamilton and started a pat-down that led to the struggle. Hamilton took the officer’s baton and struck the officer’s head, which led to the shooting, Flynn said.
The officer was treated for head injuries and released from a hospital. He has been assigned to administrative duty during the investigation, which is standard procedure, according to police spokesman Lt. Mark Stanmeyer.
Flynn said he doesn’t know how many times Hamilton was hit and said he would later release how many times the officer fired his gun.
All officers go through basic training on how to handle and respond to the mentally ill, Flynn said. He said everything happened so fast that even if the officer had further training, he wouldn’t have had the chance to use it.
The shooting is the first in the city since a state law went into effect Friday requiring an outside investigator to run officer-involved death investigations. The state Department of Investigation is leading the inquiry with help from other agencies.
The shooting follows three last year involving people who were combative and mentally ill, Flynn said. That includes last November, when police found a 17-year-old suspected in an attempted carjacking sitting in a downtown bus transit center holding a semi-automatic handgun. Police said Shawn Rieves ignored commands to drop his gun and behaved aggressively, causing them to fire.
Police have become the “social agency of first resort” for families dealing with mental illness, with the Milwaukee department receiving about 7,000 calls each year involving people with mental health problems, Flynn said. He said that the nation has failed to help the mentally ill by not providing adequate services for them and that more needs to be done at every level of government. He largely blamed budget cuts.
“This is not a tax-and-spend issue,” Flynn said. “We have a moral obligation to the mentally ill.”
Associated Press writer M.L. Johnson contributed.