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Hundreds turn out to talk federal review of Milwaukee police


This undated family photo provided by Dameion Perkins shows Dontre Hamilton. In April 2014, a Milwaukee Officer Christopher Manney shot Hamilton, whose family members said was schizophrenic, to death in a downtown park. (AP Photo/Family photo courtesy of Dameion Perkins)
This undated family photo provided by Dameion Perkins shows Dontre Hamilton. In April 2014, a Milwaukee Officer Christopher Manney shot Hamilton, whose family members said was schizophrenic, to death in a downtown park. (AP Photo/Family photo courtesy of Dameion Perkins)
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Hundreds of people packed a Milwaukee auditorium Thursday evening to discuss a federal review of the Milwaukee Police Department initiated after months of protests over the death of a mentally ill black man who was fatally shot by a white police officer.

The listening session marks the first of several such meetings the U.S. Justice Department plans to host as part of a collaborative reform investigation seeking to overhaul the department.

Dontre Hamilton's 2014 death touched off a series of demonstrations around the city. Many speakers - including Hamilton's mother and brother - questioned whether a review involving a department they see as fundamentally flawed could be fair or effective.

Hamilton family members and their supporters have called for the DOJ to sue Milwaukee police and initiate a full-scale pattern or practice review, which can lead to massive, court-ordered overhauls. The Chicago Police Department is under such a review. Speaker after speaker echoed that call Thursday.

Federal officials, however, say the voluntary review is no less thorough than a legally mandated probe and say their goal is to make Milwaukee's department a model for the rest of the nation. They also say the voluntary review doesn't preclude a future pattern or practice investigation.

Troy V. Williams, of the DOJ's Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, moderated the session and said federal officials are committed to making sure the reform efforts work.

Dozens of speakers lined up to share their experiences, many expressing mistrust and alleging racism.

Nate Hamilton, whose brother was killed after a confrontation that began with a complaint of a man sleeping in a downtown park, passed out list of demands from his organization, the Coalition for Justice. "There will be consequences," he said. "We demand justice - or else."

He called for residents to vote out public officials, including aldermen and the mayor, whom he blamed for the various reports of mistreatment.

The initial phase of the Milwaukee review will last up to 10 months and focus on police use of force, racial disparities, community engagement and mass demonstrations. Federal officials have said their assessment team would involve police officers, community members and civil rights groups.

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Dontre Hamilton's family has said he was schizophrenic, but not violent. He was shot 14 times by former Officer Christopher Manney, who was subsequently fired for improperly deciding to frisk Hamilton. Manney's attorney maintained that his client suspected Hamilton was armed. Manney has said he lost his police baton to Hamilton in a struggle and opened fire in self-defense. Manney was not charged in the death.

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