Derek Williams' mother testifies at the inquest into his death

CREATED Feb. 12, 2013

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MILWAUKEE - After hours of expert testimony from the medical examiner on the cause of Derek Williams’ death, jurors heard from Williams’ mother.

She told the six jurors about the phone call she got from Williams’ girlfriend, telling her Williams had been in trouble with the police, and that Williams may be dead.

“I got in my vehicle, but first I was panicky because I didn’t want it to be for real. But then I, um, got in my car, and I had my fingers crossed until I got there. When I got there I saw him laying on the ground,” said Williams’ mother, Sonya Moore.

Williams struggled to breathe in the back of a squad car, and later died. The assistant medical examiner initially chalked his death up to natural causes, but later ruled it a homicide. He said Williams died from something called "sickle cell crisis."

"The altercation with police was a significant stress. Because that 's my opinion, it leads to homicide. There's simply no other way to list it," said Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Brian Peterson.

Police say Williams was wearing a mask during an alleged robbery, which led to the chase.

The chief medical examiner argues that the mask would have made it difficult for Williams to breathe, which could have created the sickle cell crisis that killed him.

Sickle cell crisis can be deadly. It can prevent oxygen from being carried throughout the body.

"If you can't breathe too well because you've got something like this on your mouth, it could be a factor," Peterson said.

The assistant medical examiner, Dr. Christopher Poulos didn't know there had been a struggle when they caught him.

"If there had only been a chase, yes. However, since there was more than a chase, I have to call
this a homicide," said Dr. Poulos.

Poulos did not look at police reports before his initial ruling, or see the video.

But when the video became public, outrage followed. The chief medical examiner told Poulos he should resign.

Members of Milwaukee's Common Council and County Supervisors demanded answers after the initial autopsy.

"A common theme there was, how are you going to punish him?" Peterson said.

"There's information that I should have reviewed at the time that I didn't," Poulos responded.

The Air Force medical examiners did their own autopsy, and they say the cause of death is undetermined.