Attorney Jonathan Safran discusses criminal charges filed Friday afternoon against a Brown Deer Police officer who shot and wounded his client, Manuel Burnley Jr. Brown Deer police officer Devon Kraemer, who shot an unarmed Burnley after officers removed him from a county bus, has been charged with aggravated battery with use of a dangerous weapon, according to a criminal complaint.(Photo: Jim Nelson / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)
MILWAUKEE — A Wisconsin police officer who shot an unarmed man after removing him from a county bus in March has been charged with aggravated battery with use of a dangerous weapon, a felony, according to a criminal complaint.
The man, Manuel L. Burnley Jr., 26, was face down on the ground when Brown Deer Officer Devon Kraemer shot him in the back, according to the complaint issued Friday.
Charges in police shootings are extremely rare in Wisconsin.
In Milwaukee County, just two officers have been charged in fatal shootings in nearly 50 years, according to legislative research conducted in 2014. Only one of those shootings occurred while the officer was on duty. That research did not quantify charges in nonfatal shootings.
Charges are filed so infrequently in part because officers are authorized to use deadly force if they reasonably believe someone poses a threat to officers or to members of the public.
Kraemer told authorities she shot Burnley "because she feared for her safety and that of her partner," the complaint says.
But an expert retained by the prosecutor's office, Emanuel Kapelsohn, concluded that while Kraemer may have been afraid, that fear was not objectively reasonable.
"It was Kapelsohn's professional opinion that Kraemer's use of deadly force was not consistent with generally accepted standards for use of force in Wisconsin or nationwide," the complaint says.
According to the complaint:
The incident began when the bus driver flagged down the officers because Burnley was arguing with her. Kraemer boarded the bus and told Burnley to get off, but he refused, using vulgar language and displaying a belligerent attitude. He did not threaten anyone on the bus or suggest he had a weapon.
Kraemer and her partner, Michael Leeman, removed Burnley from the bus. As they took him to the ground, they also fell. The two officers rolled Burnley onto his stomach; he struggled as they tried to handcuff him.
"Kraemer stated that she was unable to gain control of Burnley's left arm, and she drew her firearm, and pressed it against Burnley's back," the complaint says. "She then drew it back a short distance, to avoid a malfunction, and fired once, striking Burnley in the back, then immediately re-holstered her firearm."
After he was shot, Burnley asked what happened and heard Leeman respond by saying, "We just shot you" and using a racial slur, according to a document Burnley's attorney filed as a precursor to a lawsuit. Burnley is African American; the two officers are white.
Burnley was hospitalized for 12 days and lost part of a lung as a result of the shooting. The bullet remains in his body and he is unable to work, according to his attorney, Jonathan Safran.
"Mr. Burnley is lucky to be alive and not paralyzed from being shot," Safran said Friday.
Kraemer has been placed on administrative leave with pay, according to a statement from Brown Deer Police Chief Michael Kass.
"As with any officer-involved shooting, the Brown Deer Police Department recognized that criminal charges were always a possibility," Kass said in a statement. "We fully understand and accept the need for this high level of scrutiny within the criminal justice system."
Milwaukee police conducted the investigation into the shooting at the request of Brown Deer police.
Brown Deer police had referred Burnley to the district attorney's office, requesting charges related to assaulting the two officers, but prosecutors did not charge him.
Kraemer has five years of experience with Brown Deer police and Leeman has two years with the department.
If convicted, Kraemer faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and $50,000 in fines. She would not be able to continue working in law enforcement since she would no longer be allowed to carry a gun under federal law.
Kraemer is the second police officer to be criminally charged by the Milwaukee County district attorney's office in as many days. On Thursday, Milwaukee Police Officer Dominique Heaggan-Brown, whose shooting of Sylville Smith prompted riots in the Sherman Park neighborhood of Milwaukee, was charged with three felonies and two misdemeanors, including off-duty sexual assault. Smith's death remains under investigation.
The shooting of Burnley isn't the first time Brown Deer police training has been called into question in recent years.
In 2012, Brown Deer police officials asked the state Department of Justice for training on how to handle domestic violence situations. The request came amid sharp criticism in the wake of a shooting resulted in the deaths of three people and the suicide of the gunman.
Contributing: Jesse Garza, Journal Sentinel