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Milwaukee man's death brings campaign in Madison

Published On: Feb 10 2013 02:47:36 AM CST
Updated On: Feb 10 2013 11:25:09 AM CST

Derek Williams's great aunt Maeleen Jordan traveled to Madison from Milwaukee Saturday to tell the story of her nephew's death.


The meeting started with a dance, followed by a sermon, a poem, and a series of guest speakers.

Some speakers mentioned faith, which went well with the setting. However, most of the talk in Zion International Church in Madison was about Derek Williams

Williams's great aunt Maeleen Jordan snapped photos and videos the entire evening as his mom and sister sat to the side.

Jordan and the family had driven to Madison from Milwaukee to spread their message and to tell the story of her nephew's death.

"If we can help a family today or anybody get justice for a fight like we're fighting, our family, that's why we're here, to put the word out," Jordan said.

The 22-year-old Milwaukee man died in July 2011 after struggling in the back of a police cruiser. The dashboard camera video from that night shows Williams handcuffed in the backseat, audibly gasping for breath and begging the officers for help.

Officers and paramedics administered CPR, but Williams eventually died on the scene.

The medical examiner initially said Williams died of natural causes, but later ruled his death as a homicide.

Speakers at Saturday's meeting in Madison said Williams suffered a broken collar bone, a result of police beating him before he was put in the car. The speakers said that injury suffocated him to death for eight minutes.

Special prosecutor John Franke announced his plans last month to consider felony reckless homicide charges for the officers involved in the incident. The inquest to jurors, which will determine what actually caused Williams's death and whether or not an officer can be charged, is set to begin Monday.

"Any human being with any compassion for life, I can't see come back without a guilty verdict," Jordan said.

While the discussions in Madison focused on racial disparities and police brutality, event organizer Dan Suarez said he couldn't ignore the links to the recent officer-involved fatal shooting in Madison.

Paul Heenan was shot and killed by Madison police officer Stephen Heimsness last fall on the east side of the city.

Heenan's family and friends weren't able to make Saturday's gathering, but Suarez said there have been conversations with them about Williams's campaign coming to Madison.

"Heenan is part of this," Suarez said. "We're all part of this together, and the only way that we can beat it is together."

The FBI had already launched a civil rights investigation for Williams's case back in November.

Jordan said the only thing that could bring her nephew justice is seeing the officers involved in the incident fired from the force.

"I can't see where it's fair for us to be punished in a court of law when they're not punished period," Jordan said.

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