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September 24, 2012
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Examiner reverses ruling on Wis. in-custody death

A medical examiner who ruled the death of a man in police custody to be of natural causes changed his ruling to a homicide

By PoliceOne Staff

MILWAUKEE — A medical examiner who ruled the death of a man in police custody to be of natural causes has changed his ruling to a homicide.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel alerted Assistant Medical Examiner Christopher Poulos to new evidence in the case of Derek Williams, 22, including dash cam video recorded the night he died and a national expert who believed Williams did not die of sickle cell crisis.

In July last year, Williams robbed a couple the same day he was freed from jail, police said. When officers found him, he was placed in handcuffs while sweating profusely.

According to a police report, Williams complained to officers of difficulty breathing for approximately 15 minutes, first while on the ground in handcuffs. The video shows Williams struggle in the back of the squad car, then lose consciousness.

Officers checked his pulse and tried to track down a supervisor before performing CPR, according to the Associated Press.  Another officer called paramedics, who with police continued CPR until Williams was declared dead 45 minutes later.

Poulos re-examined the case when he learned of forensic pathologist Werner Spitz, who told the newspaper Williams probably underwent a sickle cell crisis, but that it occurred when the officer had Williams face down on the ground, applying pressure to his back.

"This officer didn't have the intention of killing him, but that doesn’t mean this kind of restraint should be performed," Spitz said.

Despite previous internal and criminal investigations determining officers did nothing wrong, the district attorney, in light of the new ruling, said he will consider reopening a criminal case against the officers.

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