MILWAUKEE – A former Milwaukee police officer who was acquitted last year in a fatal shooting that sparked two nights of riots pleaded guilty Thursday to soliciting prostitution in an unrelated sexual assault case that could have sent him to prison for decades.
Under the deal with Dominique Heaggan-Brown, prosecutors dropped the most serious charges of second-degree sexual assault — felonies that by themselves carried decades-long maximum prison sentences if convicted. He pleaded guilty to three counts of soliciting prostitution and two counts of obtaining someone’s image without their consent and he pleaded no contest to one count of false imprisonment.
He faces up to 15 years in prison when he is sentenced Feb. 20.
A trial was scheduled next month and the plea agreement means the victims won’t have to testify in open court, said Erin Michelle Karshen, a Milwaukee assistant district attorney. She said the victims were OK with the plea deal.
“These amendments save those victims from being publicly identified and most importantly from having to testify in a public courtroom but still provides what the state believes is an adequate prison exposure,” she said.
Heaggan-Brown, 26, was dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit with chains around his waist and feet and appeared relaxed throughout the proceedings. He spoke little besides answering the judge’s questions about whether he understood the agreement. He said no one was forcing him to plead guilty.
In June, a jury acquitted Heaggan-Brown for killing 23-year-old Sylville Smith after a brief foot chase on Aug. 13, 2016. Smith was armed, but prosecutors who charged Heaggan-Brown with first-degree reckless homicide argued the officer was unjustified in using deadly force because Smith was throwing his gun over a fence.
Heaggan-Brown’s attorneys, however, said their client made a split-second decision to defend himself. Smith was black, as is Heaggan-Brown. The shooting in the predominantly African-American neighbourhood where it happened stirred the long-held distrust in police by minorities in the city.
Police stood by Heaggan-Brown’s decision to shoot Smith, but Chief Edward Flynn fired him when the sexual assault allegations surfaced.
One of the sexual assault charges stemmed from an incident that happened one day after Smith’s shooting. The victim told police Heaggan-Brown assaulted him after a night of drinking at a bar where they watched coverage of the ongoing riots.
Using photographs and other data from the officer’s cellphone, prosecutors determined Heaggan-Brown sexually assaulted another unconscious victim in July 2016. Prosecutors say Heaggan-Brown also photographed that victim naked without the person’s consent.
Data from the cellphone also led prosecutors to charge Heaggan-Brown with soliciting prostitutes.