Milwaukee, WI — Disturbing body camera footage was recently released showing Milwaukee police shoot an unarmed man on a rooftop. The man was holding nothing but his cellphone and had committed no crime when an officer opened fire.
The newly-released body camera footage shows multiple officers chasing Jerry Smith Jr., who was 19 at the time. The officers have Smith cornered on a rooftop as they yell at him to put up his hands. According to police, officers thought Smith was armed. He was not.
According to the legal team representing Smith, he was on the rooftop trying to call his mom when the officers opened fire. Smith's legal team explained that their client had committed no crime and was shot while he tried to comply with police.
According to police, they were responding to a call about a man with a gun when they found Smith, who fit the description of a black male. When police pulled up, Smith—who had committed no crime—made the decision to run. Smith says he did so out of fear of the police, which was justified when they shot him.
As TFTP reported in 2016, a state supreme court ruled that fleeing police is not considered suspicious because black males have legitimate reason to fear police. According to a ruling by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, black men have a legitimate reason to run from police, thus, fleeing should not be deemed suspicious. While Smith was in Wisconsin, it is important to point out the fact that running from cops is not necessarily a criminal act.
"I really don't know why they shot me," he said. "OK I ran, but the officer scared the hell out of me man. He got off the bike grabbing his gun cause I match the description of someone having a gun."
"They said 'have your hands up, put your hands up,'" said Smith Jr. "I had my hands up, my phone was in my right hand."
"An unarmed man had committed no crime, no criminal history, no drugs and is getting on the ground with his fingers spread when the officer opened fire," said Daniel Storm, a forensic investigator who is working with Attorney Walter Stern. Stern is representing Smith in a civil rights case against the Milwaukee Police Department.
Storm explained that Smith is "lucky to be alive because the one bullet just grazed his head." However, three others struck Smith, causing grave injuries. Smith is now in a wheelchair.
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"I ain't never thought that was gonna happen to me," he said. "I didn't think I'd be in a wheelchair."
"His right leg, he has partial use of it," Storm said. "We can only hope that the US attorney would get involved because we may have a violation of civil rights."
The shooting occurred on August 31, 2017 and was later ruled justified by the Milwaukee County District Attorney's office, according to Storm.
"We're asking the U.S. Attorney's office to now look at this video, make an independent decision or recommend to District Attorney Chisholm to submit this to a grand jury," Storm said.
However, that seems unlikely.
As FOX 6 reports, the D.A.'s decision stems from statements made by the two identified officers. In his statement, Officer Melvin Finkley fired twice because he "perceived Mr. Smith was reaching for a weapon concealed behind the air conditioning unit." Meanwhile, Officer Adam Stahl heard the first shot but perceived it as (Smith) firing at Officer Finkley. He fired once because he "feared for Officer Finkley's safety and for his own."
Shooting people for holding their cellphone is an all too common reaction from police. As TFTP reported earlier this year, disturbing body camera footage was released from a police shooting that took the life of a man who was confronted in his grandparents’ backyard and then gunned down because officers claimed his phone was a gun.
Stephon Clark, 23, was shot by two Sacramento Police officers in March. While the department promised to release the body camera footage within 30 days, a flurry of attention on social media prompted an early release of videos that showed the shooting from a body camera worn by one of the officers, and from the helicopter that was circling above. Unlike Smith, however, Clark did not survive.