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Calls for justice grow in death of Black man outside Milwaukee hotel as GOP convention approaches

Calls for justice in the death of a Black man who was pinned to the ground during a struggle with security guards at a Milwaukee hotel are growing as thousands of GOP supporters and protesters are expected to gather in the city for the Republican National Convention.

D'Vontaye Mitchell's death on June 30 has become the most recent flashpoint in how the nation confronts race and what some see as the systemic brutality of Black people by members of law enforcement or others in authority, four years after the May 2020 killing of George Floyd by a white police officer in Minneapolis.

The outcry comes as Milwaukee is already dealing with heightened security concerns around political protests days before the July 15 start of the convention.

“Just because they have a big event coming up in Milwaukee, the killing of D'Vontaye Mitchell is just as important as anything else that’s going to happen in Milwaukee this month,” noted civil rights attorney Ben Crump told reporters Monday.

“We will demand justice every day this week, every day next week and every day after that,” said Crump, who is part of a team of lawyers representing Mitchell’s family. His relatives have called for charges to be filed against those responsible for the 43-year-old's death.

Crump also represented the family of Floyd, whose death spurred worldwide protests against racial violence and police brutality.

“Everybody in America, after George Floyd, should have trained their employees, especially security personnel, to not put knees on peoples’ backs and peoples’ necks,” Crump added.

A spokesperson for Aimbridge Hospitality, which runs the Hyatt Regency in Milwaukee, said in a statement that it extends its condolences to Mitchell’s family and supports the investigation.

Mitchell died at the Hyatt Regency after four security guards held him down on his stomach, media outlets have reported. Police have said Mitchell entered the hotel, caused a disturbance and fought with the guards as they were escorting him out.

The medical examiner’s office has said the preliminary cause of death was homicide, but the cause remains under investigation. No one has been criminally charged so far.

The Milwaukee County District Attorney’s office said Wednesday that it and police investigators were awaiting full autopsy results and that the case was being reviewed as a homicide.

Surveillance video from inside the hotel viewed by Mitchell's family and their lawyers Wednesday at the district attorney's office showed an unarmed man fleeing for his life while being punched and kicked, they said during an afternoon news conference.

“What I saw today was disgusting. It makes me sick to my stomach,” Mitchell’s widow, DeAsia Harmon said. “He ran for his life. He was trying to leave. He said ‘I’ll go,’ and they didn’t let him go.”

Harmon said the video showed a bleeding Mitchell being dragged outside the hotel. “They didn’t stop. They could have let him go, but they didn’t,” she said.

Crump said the family's legal team also has a signed affidavit from a hotel employee who said a security guard was striking Mitchell with a baton and that Mitchell posed no threat when he was on the ground. The worker said a security guard ordered him and a bellman to help hold Mitchell down, Crump said.

Another lawyer, William Sulton said the hotel video showed an on-duty hotel security guard take a photo of Mitchell’s lifeless body as the guard was being questioned by police. “Absolutely disgusting,” Sulton said.

It is unclear why Mitchell was at the hotel or what happened before the guards pinned him down. The Milwaukee County medical examiner’s initial report said he was homeless, but a cousin told The Associated Press on Wednesday that was incorrect.

Crump said video recorded by a bystander and circulating on social media also shows excessive force was used by security guards to subdue Mitchell.

“In the video you see them with their knees on his back and neck,” Crump said, and the security guard appears to hit Mitchell in the head with an object. “You see them pull his shirt over his head, stifling not only his sound but, we believe, his breath.”

Mitchell was born and raised in Milwaukee, according to his first cousin Samantha Mitchell, 37, and any mental illness he may have had was undiagnosed.

“D'Vontaye loved to cook,” she said. “He was overprotective of his family, especially his younger cousins. He was a jokester. He really clung to a lot of our male cousins growing up, enjoying life together.”

She said the family changed his funeral from Saturday to Thursday so its significance would not be overshadowed by the GOP convention.

“We need to keep this in the light and not swept under the rug,” Mitchell said. “Regardless of the convention going on, this is still a matter that needs attention from everyone, no matter what party you are with. I want to see people speak about it while they’re here for the convention. That will say a lot.”

The AP sent an email Wednesday to representatives of the Republican National Convention for comment on Mitchell’s death.

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This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Mitchell’s first name to D’Vontaye, not Dvontaye.

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