MILWAUKEE (AP) – A woman who witnessed a confrontation between a homeless man and the police officer who killed him told The Associated Press on Friday that the officer didn’t appear in imminent danger, an account that conflicts with the official police version of events.
Police Chief Edward Flynn has said the officer was struck in the head with his own baton before the officer shot and killed Dontre Hamilton about 20 to 30 feet from where Kelly Brandmeyer was working in a coffee shop.
Brandmeyer said she became aware of the confrontation when she heard a shout. She looked up from the open-air coffee trailer where she was working and saw Hamilton holding the baton. The officer lunged for it and missed, and then stepped back as Hamilton held the baton in what appeared to be a defensive position, she said.
“He seemed frightened,” she said of Hamilton. “It seemed he was holding it so the officer couldn’t use it against him, more so than he would attack with it.”
Brandmeyer acknowledged that Hamilton may have struck the officer before she looked up, but said once she started watching the officer never seemed in imminent danger.
After the officer failed to grab the baton, he stepped back and the two men stared at each other in a silence that seemed surreal to Brandmeyer. The officer never ordered Hamilton to drop the baton or get down on the ground, she said. Instead, he pulled out his handgun.
Brandmeyer said she had a sick feeling about what was coming next and averted her eyes just before gunshots rang out. She counted three, then five, then 10.
“I’m just looking at the floor wondering how many shots it’s going to take to put him down,” she said. “I just remember being amazed at the amount of shots.”
A day after the April 30 shooting, Flynn held a news conference in which he described the 31-year-old Hamilton as combative and mentally ill. The chief spoke at length about the need to get more help for people with mental illness so that they did not end up in confrontations with police.
When asked about Brandmeyer’s version of events, police Lt. Mark Stanmeyer, the department spokesman, said she had been interviewed by state officials as part of an ongoing investigation. He did not comment further.
Hamilton’s family told AP they were devastated by the shooting. They said investigators have left them in the dark about what happened, and they’re waiting for an explanation about why the officer would have fired so many times when fewer shots might have defused any threat.
They also said Hamilton was a peaceful man whose mental illness never posed a threat of violence to anyone.
“The police tried to play it out like it was mental health. Mental health didn’t play a part in his murder,” said Dontre’s mother, Maria Hamilton. “That’s not his character. He never had trouble with nobody. All he’s ever wanted to do was help others.”