MILWAUKEE — A witness to a fatal police shooting that led to riots in Milwaukee last month said his friend was carrying a gun when he was killed, according to a report Friday.
Demario Pritchard told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (http://bit.ly/2dqX2TV ) that he and Sylville Smith weren’t looking for trouble Aug. 13, the afternoon Smith died. Interviewed in jail in Green Bay, Pritchard said they had spent the afternoon hanging out together for the first time in years after reuniting at a mutual friend’s funeral in July. He acknowledged that they had stopped by a friend’s house “for a little weed” but said they weren’t otherwise breaking the law.
Smith, 23, who was black, was shot and killed by a black officer after what police say was a brief foot chase that followed a traffic stop, and that he failed to comply with orders to drop the gun.
The fatal shooting sparked two nights of riots and ramped up long-festering racial tension across Milwaukee. The state Justice Department has yet to release records from its investigation, including body camera videos from the officers involved.
Milwaukee police and other law enforcement officials have declined to comment on what happened prior to the shooting, saying the investigation has not been completed.
Pritchard said Smith was dropping him off at Pritchard’s girlfriend’s parents’ house when a patrol SUV and an unmarked police car pulled up at the same time, boxing them in, and officers jumped out. Smith and Pritchard took off running in different directions, he said.
Chief Edward Flynn last month said that body camera video clearly shows Smith was holding a handgun and turned toward the officer when he was shot. Flynn described the encounter as taking 20 to 25 seconds from when the officer unbuckled his seatbelt, chased Smith to a fence and fired. The first 30 seconds of the video has no audio.
Pritchard said he didn’t hear officers shout at Smith to “drop the gun” or order him to do anything. He said he tripped and couldn’t see the shooting. But he said he was close enough to hear it, and that he heard four gunshots. The autopsy showed that Smith was shot twice.
Pritchard said that Smith having a gun that day speaks to “just life in Milwaukee,” more than an intent to do wrong.
“Someone can pull up on you any time,” Pritchard said.
Smith’s family maintains that he had a concealed carry permit and wasn’t breaking any laws by having the weapon with him.
Pritchard was arrested after the shooting for violating probation on an earlier conviction and remains jailed.
Information from: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, http://www.jsonline.com