In late 2004, Michael Bell Jr., 21, was shot and killed by a police officer in his own driveway while his mother and sister looked on in horror. The Kenosha, Wisconsin resident had been pulled over for a supposed traffic violation. Since that tragedy, his father, Michael Bell Sr. has worked tirelessly to have an independent investigation into his son’s killing performed.
The former Air Force pilot is familiar with investigations and was certain an independent evaluation would take place. It did not, and the entire “investigation” was done by the Kenosha Police Department and completed in just two days. Since then, Bell has been a man on a mission, and his efforts are finally bearing some fruit.
No Autopsy Report, No Eyewitness Interviews
The chief of police announced young Bell’s killing was justified even though the results of the autopsy report were not yet in, and no eyewitnesses were interviewed. Forensic testing was not completed. Although a dashcam video does show the initial confrontation, police soon pulled Bell out of the camera’s range. The only certainty was that a young man was dead.
Police alleged that Bell attempted to take an officer’s gun off the holster, but no one – including the officer – saw Bell touch the weapon. When the test results were finally released, Bell’s DNA was not on the holster or gun, but there was no reopening of the investigation.
Bell’s father did receive a settlement of $1.75 million in 2010 from the police department in a wrongful death lawsuit. He used the funds to put up billboards statewide asking the question, “When police kill, should they judge themselves?”
That was just the beginning of his relentless campaign for justice for his son. Bell threw himself into writing letters to officials at all levels of government, from the Governor to local municipalities. He approached Wisconsin’s largest police union – a union that actually gave medals to his son’s killers –asking them to help him change the law. A decade after his son’s death, things began to change.
Independent Investigations Required
In 2014, Bell’s efforts began paying off. The state legislature became the first in the nation requiring independent investigations when a police officer kills. The vote was unanimous, and other states have followed suit since that time. Bell is now working on legislation to help reduce such shootings, but his primary goal remains the reopening of his son’s case.
No Physical Evidence
According to Bell’s website, one of the officers at the scene stated in an affidavit that it did not appear that young Bell tried to take the gun away from another officer, but that the holster was snagged on the car’s mirror. That officer, Erich Strasbaugh, yelled, “He’s got my gun,” prompting another officer to shoot Bell in the head. Strasbaugh committed suicide in 2010.
No physical evidence from the scene supports the police department’s version of events. Bell also claims that emails and text messages between the police chief and the Kenosha County District Attorney and the Kenosha County Sheriff show collusion to prevent a proper investigation of the killing.
Early last year, a county circuit judge denied Bell's petition to re-examine the shooting by appointment of a special prosecutor. Bell says he intends to file an ethics complaint against two lawyers representing Kenosha and the police officers in his civil rights case. He will never give up until his son’s death receives the full investigation it deserves.
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