Two officers receive immunity to testify in Derek Williams inquest

CREATED Feb 18, 2013

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MILWAUKEE - Two Milwaukee police officers who took the fifth in the inquest into the death of Derek Williams will now take the stand. But why did they change their minds?

Special Prosecutor John Franke said he decided to give the two officers immunity, and they should be taking the stand Tuesday. Investigators explained Monday why they didn't think charges should be pressed.

The detective who led the internal homicide investigation into Derek Williams' death admitted on the stand he did not look at the squad car video showing Williams complaining he couldn't breath.

He was asked if he would have wanted to see the video.

“Myself? Out of curiosity, maybe,” Det. Michael Sarenac answered. “As I'm busy interviewing two other officers, that's being handled by other people.”

Williams died from sickle cell crisis, a condition that deprives the body of oxygen. Officers told detectives Williams only complained of shortness of breath once.

Detective Sarenac said he considered charges for failure to render aid but did not recommend any charges. The district attorney's office had one of their investigators on the scene to make sure no police officers had committed a crime.

“It did not appear that the officers had acted unreasonably, as far as obtaining medical help for Mr. Williams,” said Thomas Boehlke, an investigator with the DA’s office.

Monday's testimony also drew attention from public officials.

“As a lawyer, there's a part of me that's very interested in the process and the questions that are being asked,” said Sen. Lena Taylor.

Those who sat through testimony say the inquest is one step in the right direction.

“I think this is further proof that you need a third party to police the police," said Sup. David Bowen.

“I think it's important for the community to see justice for the community and to see justice at work and the end result will bring solace to the Williams family as well as the community," said Alderman Milele Coggs

The inquest was expected to be done today, but Franke was able to work out a deal with two officers to testify. He said he hopes to wrap things up on Tuesday.