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If the prospect of being investigated by the criminal justice system is enough to drive police officers to suicide, why should those of us not protected by “Blue Privilege” have any trust in it?

“I think cops are more afraid of the [criminal justice] system because they are close to it,” Professor Eugene O’Donnell of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice told Newsday columnist Antony M. Destafano. “Outsiders” cannot sympathize with the burdens of police officers who are investigated for official misconduct or criminal offenses, O’Donnell insists, because they face “three threats: loss of job, loss of reputation and loss of freedom if convicted” – as if the same weren’t true of anyone on the receiving end of such scrutiny.

Merely being questioned in an official investigation “may be unsettling enough to push the officer to suicide,” added Dr. John M. Violanti, an epidemiologist at the University of Buffalo. “It is a dispiriting thing for officers to have to go through these things, regardless of whether they are innocent or guilty.”

According to Volanti, police have a 69 percent greater chance of committing suicide than the average American worker. Furthermore, a police officer is three times likelier to kill himself than to be killed in the line of duty.

All of this tells us two profoundly unsettling things: First, that the criminal justice system is an engine of misery designed to ruin lives, rather than achieve restitution for actual offenses; and second, that police officers – people who are armed and invested with the supposed right to commit aggressive violence while protected by “qualified immunity” – are recruited from a sub-population of exceptionally unstable people.

The Newsday article – which was republished at PoliceOne.com, an online “Safe Space” for the Blue Lives Matter cult —  was obviously intended to portray efforts to hold police accountable as a threat to that most precious of all things, “officer safety.” A case can be made for the proposition that immunizing police from accountability can have lethal consequences.

On October 31, 2010, 34-year-old Officer Eric Strausbaugh of the Kenosha, Wisconsin Police Department committed suicide. Friends recalled that he was experiencing marital difficulties, which is certainly common in police households. A large part of his burden, however, was probably related to his actions on November 9, 2004, when he was an accomplice in what can only be honestly described as the murder of Michael Edward Bell.

Strausbaugh confronted Bell in front of his home at about 2:10 a.m. He never provided an unambiguous legal rationale for the stop: He first claimed that Bell was speeding, then later asserted that he had run a stop sign. Neither of those claims was validated by the dash cam video from Strausbaugh’s cruiser (which actually shows that Strausbaugh blew through a stop sign on the way to Bell’s home).

The video shows a visibly puzzled Bell emerging from his vehicle. Within seconds Strausbaugh is literally at the 21-year-old’s throat, pushing him up against the vehicle then dragging him off-camera. A brief argument ensues, in which Bell can be heard exclaiming “I know my rights!” and Strausbaugh is heard demanding that the young man submit to a field sobriety test. Near the end of the five minute video clip we can hear Strausbaugh order Bell put his arms behind his back, followed by the unmistakable sound of a Taser being fired.

Three other Kenosha police officers — who were reportedly within a few blocks of Bell’s residence — arrived on the scene a few minutes later. Strausbaugh insisted that he called for backup because Bell “ran,” but there is no evidence to corroborate that claim.

No more than seven minutes after the confrontation began, Bell was dead from a gunshot wound to the head. He was gunned down — after being kicked and Tasered for several minutes — in front of his horrified mother and sister. The actual killing was carried out by Officer Albert Gonzalez, who, in the clinical language of Dr. Douglas Kelly, former Chief Medical Examiner for Fond Du Lac County, “made [a] contact wound by pressing his gun against [Bell’s] head at the time the shot was fired.”

When Gonzalez pulled the trigger, Bell was being restrained by at least two other police officers. Strausbaugh maintained that Bell — a much smaller man — somehow managed to bulldog him up against a nearby car, and grab for his gun before being shot to death. Bell supposedly accomplished this feat despite being  Tasered multiple times, as well as enduring several punches and knee strikes to the ribs inflicted by Strausbaugh and Officer Erich Weidner (who arrived within minutes of the initial stop).

As depicted in a work of dramatic fiction the Kenosha Police Department wittily called a “reenactment” of the homicide, Officer Gonzalez supposedly shot Bell in the right side of the head, despite the fact that this would have endangered Lt. David Krueger, who was standing directly behind the victim.

The most significant problem with this story is that “it is forensically impossible” for the shooting to occur as depicted in the Kenosha PD’s little skit, according to Dr. Kelly. Gonzalez couldn’t have shot Bell as portrayed “without either [Bell’s] neck being extremely hyper-extended or his body being bent backwards.”

Not to worry: The Kenosha PD — after offering the most solemn assurances regarding the scrupulous accuracy of its original story — devised two alternate versions of the event in an attempt to demonstrate that it was possible for Gonzalez to have shot Bell on the right side of his head. This was done despite the fact that the initial witness statements, and the location of the shell casing following the shooting, made it clear that the gunshot was fired to the left side of the victim’s skull.

This detail is critical: If he had been positioned to shoot Bell from the right, Gonzalez would have been able to verify that the victim had been attempting to grab Strausbaugh’s gun. During the initial deposition in a civil suit filed by Bell’s family, the officers involved in the killing all claimed that the shot was fired to the left side of Bell’s head. Those accounts underwent a dramatic revision once the significance of that detail was made clear; suddenly they all ardently maintained that the gunshot had been fired from the right side.

As the version of the killing performed by the Kenosha PD’s Perjury Playhouse Theater Troupe demonstrates,  a kill-shot fired from the left would have placed Lt. Kreuger in the line of fire. Even if Kreuger had avoided being shot, his uniform wouldn’t have escaped without being decorated by skull fragments and brain tissue. Yet this wasn’t the case. Furthermore, although skull fragments were reportedly found on the scene, they were never provided to Dr. Kelly for forensic analysis.

Wherever Gonzalez was positioned when he shot and killed Michael Bell, this much is certain: The officer could not have seen the young man grab for Strausbaugh’s gun, because he never did so. Tests run by the Wisconsin State Crime Lab found no fingerprint or DNA evidence indicating that Bell had ever touched Strausbaugh’s gun or holster.

The “official” review by the Kenosha PD didn’t deal with any of this evidence, which was exhumed through the efforts of the victim’s father, retired Air Force Lt. Col. Michael Bell, Sr. The Department invested a total of two days before ratifying this killing as a “justified” use of lethal force.

Wherever Gonzalez was positioned when he shot and killed Michael Bell, this much is certain: The officer could not have seen the young man grab for Strausbaugh’s gun, because he never did so. Tests run by the Wisconsin State Crime Lab found no fingerprint or DNA evidence indicating that Bell had ever touched Strausbaugh’s gun or holster.

The “official” review by the Kenosha PD didn’t deal with any of this evidence, which was exhumed through the efforts of the victim’s father, retired Air Force Lt. Col. Michael Bell, Sr. The Department invested a total of two days before ratifying this killing as a “justified” use of lethal force.

In March 2010, on what would have been Michael’s 27th birthday, the Kenosha City Government paid Bell’s family $1.75 million to settle a federal civil rights lawsuit. That settlement, unlike most others of its kind, had no “confidentiality clause”; this allowed Bell’s family to use the money to pursue reforms intended to promote genuine accountability for police officers who use deadly force. Michael Bell, Sr.  used some of the settlement to publish billboards demanding independent investigation of police killings. He also helped fund an independent investigation into the killing of his son.

“It is apparent the Kenosha Police Department, in order to protect the image of their department, chose to participate in and cover up a criminal act rather than tarnish the image of their department,” Bell declared in 2012 as he presented the findings of the independent inquiry to the US Attorney’s office in Wisconsin.

By that time, eight years had passed since Michael was killed – and two years had passed since one of his killers had killed himself.

In April 2005, the Wisconsin Professional Police Association conferred a “Meritorious Award” on Officers Strausbaugh, Weidner, and Gonzalez for “their bravery, unselfish teamwork, and outstanding use of their training” in carrying out the gangland-style slaying. The citation didn’t even bother to mention Michael Bell by name, describing him as an uppity Mundane supposedly notorious for his “history of police resistance.”

In addition to being placed on a pedestal by the local armed tax-feeder union, Strausbaugh and his cohorts were extolled as a model for police state-wide. According to Lt. Dan Marcou, a SWAT trainer and former police officer from La Crosse, Wisconsin, “Among Wisconsin Law Enforcement Officers, the incident became a guide on how to respond when a suspect was attempting to disarm their partner.”

Writing in PoliceOne.com – yes, the same news-site that republished the jeremiad lamenting the psychological toll of police accountability – Marcou descended into melodrama as he regurgitated one of the discredited official versions of the Michael Bell murder as he lamented Strausbaugh’s suicide:

“Officer Eric Strausbaugh struggled to hold onto his weapon on November 9, 2004, when his life was in the balance and he was rescued by the back-up officer who he called to the scene for assistance. In the early morning hours of October 31, 2010, Officer Eric Strausbaugh’s life hung in the balance once again. This time he decided to not call for back-up. It is a struggle that he lost.”

Because the killing of Michael Bell was “investigated and ruled justified” by a department engaged in a cynical cover-up, it was a righteous act, not murder, according to Marcou. Bell’s family, however, had murdered the heroic Officer Strausburgh just as surely as if they had pulled the trigger, he insisted: “They led a relentless campaign in the courts, in the legislature, on the Internet…. The campaign was negative, accusatory, and Strausburgh and the other officers involved found themselves under siege, for nearly six years.”

The victim’s family should have been “consoled” to learn that the department responsible for killing their loved one had cleared itself, Marcou insisted. Theirs is the privilege to kill; ours is the duty to die. Why couldn’t Michael Bell’s father simply accept that division of labor, and shut up?

“Don’t let the bastards get you down,” Marcou said by way of a parting admonition to other officers who might find themselves facing accountability for an unjustified use of lethal force.

Michael Bell’s father expressed sincere regret over the self-inflicted death of one of the people who murdered his son. Lt. Marcou doesn’t see the need to reciprocate that act of decency toward someone who doesn’t belong to his exalted tribe. Nor, apparently, did he consider the possibility that Strausburgh was not hounded to death by the family of his victim, but rather had been relentlessly tormented by his own irrepressible conscience.

Eric Strausburgh was hailed as a hero when he must have known that his actions were those of a coward and a murderer. He had been required to offer an honest accounting for what he had done and take moral responsibility for it, he might be alive today.


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