On April 23rd, 2014, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker signed a new law that was the first of its kind in the nation. The new law requires an independent investigation of police officers when someone dies or is killed while in police custody. It’s an important new law for many reasons, but none more important than the fact that police departments and officers across the county often elude accountability and transparency by conducting internal investigations of shootings and civilian deaths involving their officers. The police get to investigate themselves and determine whether a crime has been committed when someone dies in their custody. As to be expected in a system that judges its own, most police officers walk from these incidents with barely a slap on the wrist.
|Michael Bell, Sr. stands in front of an advocacy billboard.|
My son was coming home from a night out with friends. A police officer was up the street as my son drove past him. Police video shows no wavering, fluctuations in speed or any other reason he should have been stopped. He was driving another man’s vehicle. He stopped in front of his house as the officer arrived. The officer accused him of running a stop sign and pulls him off camera. My son asks why are you kicking me, I’ve done nothing wrong. Essentially, he gets tased, and runs to the back of his home. His mother, sister, and three neighbors witnessed a “Rodney King” style beating. At some point an officer says “he has my gun” and he is bent over with his hands behind his back, being held down by a police officer. Another officer runs up and places a gun directly to my son’s head (while mother and sister watch) and shoots a bullet into his temple.
Dash cam footage from the night Kenosha police shot Michael Bell, Jr.
Several major moments lead to this. Grief counseling in which family members described what they saw, the quickness of the investigation without even the hint of correctness, (my son’s fingerprints or DNA were not on any gun or holster) officers were not tested for alcohol or other substances, the District Attorney refused our request for an inquest and just three months later, as he was investigating another police shooting and running for circuit court judge, he was being endorsed by every police chief in the county. He refused the family’s request for an inquest and also found the other shooting justified.This link help better explain.
|Family photo of Michale Bell Jr. on graduation day.|
A number of high profile cases occurred and we placed billboards along the highways, and ran television, newspaper and radio ads to bring awareness to our message that “When police kill, should they judge themselves” to support them. Our family settled a federal civil rights lawsuit and refused a confidentiality agreement so that the data in my son’s case was available to the public. At one point, our family supported the family of Derek Williams Jr. by placing 43 billboards along major Milwaukee thoroughfares. Traffic Audit Bureau data suggested that those billboards were being seen by 12.5 million people per week.
|Michael Bell with investigator Ira Robins turning in a privately funded investigation concerning the patterns and practices of the Kenosha Police Department to the FBI|
It is important to know that there were very fine police officers on the inside of the blue wall that also lobbied for this bill. As a number of family members walked past them, I shook their hands and thanked them for their support. I feel it was a healing moment for number of families that never fully recovered from the death of their loved ones.
|Governor Scott Walker signs the new law.|
This interview was conducted by our friends at crushplate.com
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