MILWAUKEE (AP) — After a 13-year-old boy was shot and killed in front of his Milwaukee home last month, police forced his grieving mother to sit in a squad car for more than an hour rather than let her hold her dying son or join him at the hospital.
Officers also rifled through her home looking for stolen firearms, and arrested another of her sons on a year-old truancy violation.
The actions might have seemed harsh, Milwaukee police Chief Ed Flynn acknowledged Wednesday, but that's an unfortunate aspect of homicide investigations — the detectives' top priority is to gather facts, and compassion is only a secondary concern.
Prosecutors say the boy, 13-year-old Darius Simmons, was outside his home May 31 when his 75-year-old neighbor confronted him about stolen firearms. When Simmons protested his innocence, John Henry Spooner shot him in the chest as Simmons' mother watched, the criminal complaint said.
Flynn said investigators get only one chance to collect evidence and interview witnesses at the scene. That means keeping witnesses apart to prevent them from talking, even family members who are mourning and want to be together, he said.
In this case, the boy's mother was a primary witness, Flynn said.
"I wish it had been the mailman," Flynn told reporters. "But it wasn't. It was the mom."
Flynn said similar logic applied when officers arrested a son on the truancy violation. Sometimes, witnesses who have outstanding violations leave the scene before police arrive, so by making arrests officers ensure that witnesses won't leave prematurely, he said.
Because Spooner alleged that shotguns had been stolen from his house, police were obligated to search Simmons' home to confirm or deny his claims, Flynn said. He denied criticism that officers had left the home in disarray.
"We didn't rifle through drawers or go through purses," the police chief said. "We only looked in the likely places where they could be."
Spooner pleaded not guilty to first-degree intentional homicide on Monday, two days after Simmons was buried. Spooner's hearings and trial dates will be set at a June 20 scheduling conference.