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updated: 4/1/2013 8:41 AM

3 Milwaukee officers won't be charged in 2011 death

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Associated Press

MILWAUKEE -- A special prosecutor on Friday declined to charge three Milwaukee police officers in connection with the death of a robbery suspect who pleaded for help while gasping for air in the back of a squad car in 2011, saying there wasn't enough evidence to prove a case beyond a reasonable doubt.

Special prosecutor John Franke said he would have had to prove the officers acted intentionally to deny aid.

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An inquest jury last month recommended a misdemeanor charge of failure to render aid against the three officers. Derek Williams, 22, died after gasping for air in the back of a squad car in July 2011.

The three officers -- Richard Ticcioni, Jeffrey Cline and Jason Bleichwehl -- declined to testify during the inquest, citing their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Other officers testified that they thought Williams was faking.

In his closing statement to the inquest jury, Franke presented arguments both in favor of charges and against charges. On one hand, he said, half a dozen neighbors testified that they heard Williams repeatedly saying he couldn't breathe as he was arrested and taken to the squad car. On the other hand, the officers eventually performed CPR and called paramedics, Franke said.

Franke, a private attorney, was named the special prosecutor by Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm,

Franke earlier decided against asking the inquest jury to consider felony charges against the officers because of the complexity of the medical evidence and lingering uncertainty about why Williams died.

The inquest jury found probable cause that Williams -- who had a genetic marker for sickle cell but not the disease itself -- died of sickle-cell crisis.

Williams was arrested after running about a block and a half. He had been released from jail earlier in the day, where he had been held for unpaid tickets. He had no criminal record. A video obtained by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel showed that for nearly eight minutes, Williams struggled to breathe and begged for help while officers ignored his pleas.

The officers could still face federal criminal charges. The U.S. Attorney's office in Milwaukee has not ruled out charging the three officers, and the U.S. Department of Justice is considering whether to sue the Milwaukee Police Department over a possible pattern of civil rights abuses.

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