Metro-East News

Federal judge ends career with custody hearing for East St. Louis man shot by deputy

Video shows officer-involved shooting in East St. Louis

Demetrius Ward was shot by an unnamed St. Clair County Sheriff's deputy on Jan. 19 in East St. Louis. This video was captured by an onlooker.
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Demetrius Ward was shot by an unnamed St. Clair County Sheriff's deputy on Jan. 19 in East St. Louis. This video was captured by an onlooker.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Donald Wilkerson retired Thursday after presiding over the detention hearing for the 42-year-old East St. Louis man shot by a deputy Jan. 19 in East St. Louis.

Demetrius Ward, who survived the shooting, was federally indicted Jan 23 on charges possessing a firearm as a felon and possession of a controlled substance.

Ali Summers, criminal chief at the U.S. Attorney’s Office and prosecutor on the case, argued in court that Ward should be held in jail and not released.

“The gun he had was loaded. It had 17 rounds in it. One was in the chamber. He also had a small black bag of heroin,” Summers said.

Summers said Ward has six felony convictions and 19 misdemeanor convictions.

Ward was convicted of aggravated battery in 2002, burglary in 2005, armed robbery in 2009.

Summers told the court that while Ward was out on parole, he was convicted of additional crimes two separate times.

“We believe detention is appropriate” Summers told Wilkerson.

Wilkerson then addressed Ward, who was handcuffed and had shackles on his feet.

“Let me start off with you’re very lucky to be alive. The fact you’re sitting here and able to hear me is almost a miracle,” Wilkerson said.

Wilkerson said he was inclined to release Ward from jail, saying he believed the man was a heroine user, hadn’t had a job in two years and was driving around with a gun..

“I have no faith in the fact you’re not a danger to the community,” Wilkerson told Ward.

The judge said he didn’t consider him a flight risk because of his injuries.

“It’s possible you’ll get better health care in the marshal’s custody,” Wilkerson said and then ordered Ward to be held by the U.S. Marshals.

Ward was led away from the courtroom with family and friends following behind him.


Wilkerson was the first minority to serve on the federal bench in Southern Illinois. He was born and raised in East St. Louis. and taught at Lincoln Middle School for 20 years before becoming an attorney.

Following Ward’s hearing, people in the room began clapping cheering for Wilkerson, who served 14 years on the federal bench as a U.S. Magistrate judge for the Southern District of Illinois.

Wilkerson’s long time courtroom deputy, Jackie Payton, was moved to tears, as she observed Wilkerson shaking hands and thanking all of his supporters through the years.

“He’s a good man and a good judge. He always tried to be fair and he was. He was a good person to work with. I am happy that I had the opportunity,” Payton said.

Wilkerson he’s retiring to start a new stage in his life.

“I hope that I’ve been fair and competent and served the people of Southern Illinois well. I hope I did it,” Wilkerson said.

Wilkerson told the BND he wants young people in the community to pursue what they want to do in their life and try the best they can at it.

People attending his retirement celebration reflected on the judge.

“His wisdom transcends cases. He is respected by both prosecutors and defense lawyers. He shows great empathy to all participants in the court system, whether it is the defense or the victim. He’s a good man, always fair — just a fantastic person,” said Jeff Jensen, U. S Attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri, , who has known Wilkerson for 25 years.

“I am going to miss him. He always brought laughter to everybody. He’s always got a kind word to say. It has been fun working in his courtroom,” long-time court reporter Barb Kniepman said.

Summers said Wilkerson was “a very thoughtful, thorough and fair judge.”

Gil Sison will replace Wilkerson on the bench.

“He’s a special person, his humbleness, his humanness. He is a true representative of humanity I will always struggle to fill his shoes. I don’t think I will get there. If I am always struggling to get there, I know I am in a good place,” Sison said.

Carolyn P. Smith has worked for the Belleville News-Democrat for 18 years and currently covers breaking news in the Metro-East. She graduated from the Journalism School at the University of Missouri at Columbia and says news is in her DNA.