A Milwaukee Officer’s Struggle After His Brothers Die in Conflicts With Police

Instead of quitting the force, Ronald Edwards finds healing through serving the community
September 9, 2020 Updated: September 9, 2020

MILWAUKEE, Wis.—Two years after Ronald Edwards became a police officer in Milwaukee, his brother was shot and killed by an off-duty officer, and he wanted to quit the force.

Edwards lost both of his brothers in confrontations with police—several years earlier, his other brother had died in police custody. 

“Some family members are coming at you from the left side, some family members are coming at you from the right side. … They were saying things like ‘I can’t believe you still want to do that job,’” Edwards said. 

“I get to the point where I just don’t want to hear anything from anybody anymore. So the best way to get rid of it all is just to say, ‘Hey, I’m not going to [be a police officer] anymore.’” 

His father, on the other hand, challenged him to remember why he became an officer in the first place.

It was a dream that had formed during his teenage years and was finally realized at the age of 37. Edwards thought long and hard, and decided not to quit. 

Then, within a year of his second brother’s death, his father was murdered.

“The different types of tragedies that people suffer … I can relate, because I’ve been there,” Edwards told The Epoch Times in an interview at Milwaukee’s Police Administration Building on Aug. 31.

When he’s interacting with people who’ve experienced tragedy, he feels better able to understand and help them through it.

“If I can share my feelings or perspectives and help you through that, I feel a sense of gratitude,” he said. “That’s just one more added tool that I have to help serve or reach out to the community.” 

Following several police-involved deaths that have prompted protests and riots in many parts of the nation this year—including a high-profile and recent one in Kenosha, Wisconsin, just south of Milwaukee—Edwards said changes are needed within his profession.

He strives to be part of the change, he said.

Epoch Times Photo
Police stand guard during a protest the day after Jacob Blake was shot by police in Kenosha, Wis., on Aug. 24, 2020. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

But he would also like to see people appreciate the work of officers. He tries not to be discouraged if they don’t: “Even if you don’t thank me, I still know that in my heart, I’m here for you.

“I’m here for the community that I grew up in.” 

Inner-City Kid

Edwards grew up near Richards and Chambers streets on the East Side of Milwaukee.

“It was the inner city,” he said. “I was always ducking and dodging, [because] I never wanted to have confrontations or be around people that were involved in gangs.”

His mother worked at a nursing home and raised Edwards and his sisters as a single mother. 

His father was married and raised several children, including two boys, Mario Mallet and Xavier Mallet.

“We were really close,” Edwards said of his two half-brothers. “My dad said there is no such thing as half-brothers; you are brothers.” It was these two brothers who were killed in confrontations with officers.

At an early age, Edwards dreamed of becoming a police officer and getting involved in all the excitement he saw on TV crime shows.

“All the car chases, something blowing up … things like that, you know, gravitates towards a kid’s mind,” he said. So as the years went by, his reasons to serve and protect broadened and deepened.

After high school, Edwards worked two jobs, at McDonald’s during the day and at a grocery store in the evenings, and also signed up to be an auxiliary officer at the Milwaukee Police Department. Auxiliary officers are a volunteer group that help regular police forces in times of emergency or for special events.

Edwards learned to work with police officers on crowd control at parades, bike races, and marathons. However, the part he liked most was getting to ride in a squad car along with an officer on patrol, answering low-risk calls.

“I actually got to see firsthand, before becoming a police officer, what the actual job entails,” Edwards said. “Because I had the aspiration of becoming a police officer, [officers] always made sure they showed or taught me something that I would need to know when I became an officer.”

One lesson from now-retired Lieutenant Marlon Davis has especially served Edwards.

“[Davis taught me that] when you get out there, and you work in this job, always treat people like they’re human,” Edwards said. 

“When you treat people like they’re human, you give them their dignity, their respect, and they’ll treat you the way you want to be treated.”

Mourning and Uncertainty

In 2001, when Edwards was 32, his 29-year-old brother, Mario Mallet, died in the back of a police wagon after a struggle with officers. Milwaukee’s Journal Sentinel reported he was cuffed and his ankles shackled. He was in the back without an officer, contrary to department policy. The only officer in the vehicle was the driver, who couldn’t see him.

Jeffrey Jensen, the Milwaukee County medical examiner, testified that Mallet died of a heart attack caused by acute exhaustive mania. A jury ruled the death accidental and no charges were filed against officers. 

Some family members automatically blamed police officers without knowing all the details, Edwards said. They questioned Edwards, “How could you work with people that killed your brother?” 

“It was kind of heartbreaking, because I was affiliated with the police department being an auxiliary and I wanted to be a police officer, but yet, I have a family member who died in police custody,” he said.

But he didn’t doubt becoming an officer after his brother died, he said, “because, by this time, I knew why I wanted to become a police officer; to me, it was bigger than myself.”

“If I didn’t become a police officer, it wouldn’t bring my brother back. But yet, if I did become a police officer, I will still go out there and be able to help serve the community,” he said.

Edwards was sworn in about five years after Mallet’s death.

Epoch Times Photo
Police gather outside the Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee on Aug. 17, 2020. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

“It was just unbelievable; the day moved so fast,” he said. “The only thing I can remember is when we were standing down in the room, just holding up the right hand and swearing.”

The oath that new officers swear reads: “I, [name], who have been appointed to the office of police officer and who have not yet entered upon the duties thereof, swear that I’ll support the Constitution of the United States, the constitution of the state of Wisconsin to enforce all the laws of the United States, the state of Wisconsin, ordinances of the City of Milwaukee, obey all the lawful orders from my superior officers, and faithfully discharge the duties of my office to the best of my ability. So help me, God.”

During his first year on the force, Edwards learned a valuable lesson on how to initiate positive changes within his department.

When answering a call on patrol, he thought his partner handled the matter improperly. Back at the station, Edwards asked his supervisor to correct his partner’s behavior.

However, his supervisor refused to intervene and told him: “If I go out there and say something, you’re going to look like the guy who’s always running the intelligence. But if you go and say something, then you’re going to be the guy to make sure that never occurs out there again.”

“That was one of my first experiences, that if change needs to happen, then I need to be the one to say something or do something about the change,” Edwards said.

Two years into his police career, his other brother, Xavier Mallet, was shot and killed by an off-duty police officer, John Freeman, in Atlanta. 

Xavier was a security guard at the apartment building Freeman lived in, and they got into a dispute. Freeman shot and killed Xavier, who was unarmed, The Associated Press reported at the time.

Edwards was angry about Xavier’s death.

“But I grew up in a religious household. You’re always taught that God is a forgiving God, and that you shouldn’t hold onto anger because it only leads you to do something out of anger,” Edwards said. “Things that happen in life [are] set before you for a certain reason, and God never set a weight on your shoulder that you can’t bear.

“So, eventually, I learned to forgive, forgive, forgive. … By the time of trial, there wasn’t anger, there was just a complete sense of loss.”

Freeman was convicted of voluntary manslaughter and sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Xavier’s death further divided his family, Edwards said. One relative after another told him: “You must be a fool. Only a fool can work with people that don’t care about his family.”

“All I was thinking about was that my brother died, it was a police-related death, and that I don’t want to do this job anymore. … I just want to be at peace,” he said.

He told his father about his thoughts about leaving the profession. 

“Well, if you know what you’re going to do, I can’t stop you from quitting your job,” his father told him. “But you have to think about why you started doing this job.”

Edwards did as his father said. He thought about how he grew up dodging gangs, and about kids in similar neighborhoods who can’t play outside freely for fear of stray bullets. 

“When you put me there on a block, for that few minutes, you won’t have [people] hanging out on the corner shooting dice,” he said about the role of an officer on patrol. “You won’t see bullets flying down the street. You won’t have cars ripping up and down the street at high rates of speed. You’ll give people that sense of peace and stability, even if for 15 minutes.

“I’m helping people. I’m there for them at a time of need.

“I prayed on it,” he said about contemplating whether to stay on the force. “I’m still here.”

In 2009, about a year after Xavier was killed, Edwards’s father was fatally shot behind his home after parking his truck in the garage. To this day, Edwards doesn’t know why his father was killed.

Building Police–Community Relationships

About four years ago, Edwards was transferred to the Office of Community Outreach and Education, where he helped at-risk youth avoid the criminal life and prepared youth in the criminal justice system for a return to normal life. 

It was 2016, and a fatal police shooting in Milwaukee sparked riots; Sylville Smith, 23, was running with a stolen handgun when he was shot. Edwards was out in the community at that turbulent time, building relationships between residents and police. 

Epoch Times Photo
A man talks to police in riot gear as they wait in an alley after a night of clashes with protesters angry about the police shooting of Sylville Smith, in Milwaukee, on Aug. 15, 2016. (Darren Hauck/Getty Images)
Epoch Times Photo
Cars stand burned in the lot of a BP gas station after rioters clashed with the Milwaukee Police Department protesting an officer-involved killing in Milwaukee, on Aug. 14, 2016. (Darren Hauck/Getty Images)
Epoch Times Photo
Community members and volunteers help clean up the damage to local businesses after rioters clashed with the Milwaukee Police Department protesting an officer-involved killing in Milwaukee, Wis., on Aug. 14, 2016. (Darren Hauck/Getty Images)

The guiding rule for him has always been the one he learned as an auxiliary officer: treat others as you want to be treated. 

“Police officers meet people at their bad, if not worst, moments in their lives,” he said. “So if I get you at your worst moment, I want to help you understand the situation and say some type of positivity, so that you will say, ‘You know what, I think he was right,’ or ‘You know what, I want to thank him for sharing that with me.’”

Edwards recalled one such positive interaction with a man in custody. The man allegedly had hit his girlfriend, and police were sent out to arrest him, but he ran. Police caught him after a foot chase. 

At the police station, Edwards asked him why he ran. The man told him, “I thought it was the worst thing to go to jail, so I ran.”

Edwards explained that hitting his girlfriend was a misdemeanor, but resisting arrest is a felony offense. The man said: “Man, I didn’t know that. Police, you know, didn’t explain it to me before. They just usually tell me to shut up.”

“Because I took the time to speak with him and treat him like the human being he was, he really appreciated it,” Edwards said.

Recently, Edwards was called back to patrol on the street because of a shortage of officers.

“I think there is a big misconception that people really don’t think that police officers are human. … A lot of people believe that when we put this uniform on, we’re like, just a piece of fabric, or a piece of the suit that we put on,” he said about the recent rise in anti-police sentiment.

“[But] I know that your ill will is not towards me as a person. It may be towards the uniform, but not me as a person. And when I extend that hand out to show you that I understand, I’m hoping that you’ll welcome me into your community.”