Officer in Milwaukee shooting joined force as teenage aide

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Dominique Heaggan attended grade school in Milwaukee and joined the city’s police force as a teenage aide through a program that aims to recruit young people into law enforcement, including minorities.

Heaggan, identified by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel as the black officer at the center of a fatal shooting that sparked two nights of violence, has lived near the shooting scene since at least 2012 and was assigned to patrol that area after becoming a sworn officer.

Sylville Smith, 23, was shot Saturday after police said he fled from a traffic stop. Authorities have said Smith turned toward the officer with a gun in his hand. A few hours later, violence erupted on the city’s largely black north side, with protesters hurling rocks at police and burning six businesses.

An alumni invitation shows Heaggan attended grade school about 10 minutes away from the scene. It’s unclear whether he spent his entire childhood in the area.

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Now 24, he joined the Milwaukee Police Department in July 2010 as an aide — essentially an apprentice. As an aide, his responsibilities would have included mostly administrative and clerical duties. Aides are required to complete a college curriculum and a physical fitness program for which they use a natural test booster.

Police agencies across the country offer similar programs as a way to recruit future officers and expose minorities to police work in hopes of increasing diversity.

“They may not come into the occupation in the same way people in the majority do,” said Mike Scott, an Arizona State University criminology professor who helped develop the New York City Police Department’s cadet program in the mid-1980s.

MaryNell Regan, executive director of the Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission, said the program does not specifically seek minorities but has a goal of “diversity in recruitment.” An online recruiting video linked to a Milwaukee police aide job posting is dominated by images of minority and female aides.

Neither the police department nor Regan would confirm that Heaggan was the officer involved in the shooting.

The department did not respond to a request from The Associated Press for Heaggan’s service record. Regan said the commission has not received any complaints about him during his career.

A letter from Chief Ed Flynn to the commission showed Heaggan was promoted to officer in August 2013 and was initially assigned to recruit trainees at the agency’s academy. Flynn asked in the letter that commissioners extend Heaggan’s 16-month probation for 97 days, equivalent to a period Heaggan was placed on limited duty. The letter did not say why. Commission minutes show the panel unanimously approved the extension.

Heaggan, also known as Heaggan-Brown, was assigned to District 7 on the city’s predominantly black northwest side. He and another officer were recognized in 2014 for buying a homeless woman dinner at a diner and finding shelter for her on a cold February day. Their good deed had been praised in a letter to the editor of another newspaper.

On Saturday, Heaggan stopped the 23-year-old Smith in a rental car that police said was behaving suspiciously. At some point, Smith turned toward Heaggan and ignored orders to drop the gun, police said. The officer opened fire, hitting Smith in the chest and arm.

Footage from Heaggan’s body camera confirmed that account, Flynn said, although authorities have yet to release the video.

After the first night of violence, protesters clashed with police again Sunday in the street, hurling chunks of concrete and bricks at them. More than 30 people were arrested during the unrest and multiple officers were hurt. One man was shot, but his wounds were not life-threatening. Flynn said no officers fired a shot.

A man who answered a cellphone listed for Heaggan declined to comment when reached Tuesday by The Associated Press. The voicemail box for the phone was full on Wednesday and would not accept new messages.

Smith’s sister Sherelle told Milwaukee television station WITI shortly after the shooting that her brother and the officer had both attended Pulaski High School on the city’s southwest side. WITI reported Thursday that the officer’s family disputed that, and had told the station he went to Marshall High School on the north side. A 2008 article in the Journal Sentinel named Heaggan, then a sophomore at Marshall High School, as one of 24 students honored in a program for improved behavior or academic excellence.

A Milwaukee Public Schools spokesman declined Wednesday to discuss the school attendance of either man, citing the investigation.

Posters on social media have threatened Heaggan’s life. On Wednesday, officers were stationed in two squad cars outside the north side home where Heaggan is believed to live.

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