Friday, December 26, 2014

Highlight of 2014 - Wisconsin's police-shooting law

In Wisconsin, A Decade-Old Police Shooting Leads To New Law - NPR:

December 13, 2014 - "Race is at the forefront of the current debate over the police use of deadly force. But one shooting in Wisconsin highlights another factor at play when police shoot civilians — the lack of outside investigation. And the decade-old death has led to real reform in the state.

"Ten years ago, 21-year-old Michael Bell Jr. pulled up to the house where he lived with his mom and sister in Kenosha, Wis., about an hour south of Milwaukee. A police officer who, according to a police report chose to follow Bell after observing his driving, arrived shortly after.... The two walked off-camera, where police tried to arrest him. A struggle ensued, and while his mom and sister watched from the house, Bell was shot, point-blank, in the head....

"The Kenosha Police Department's detective division and internal affairs division immediately conducted an investigation.... Within 48 hours, the department had determined that the shooting was justified, that the use of force was proper and that none of the officers had done anything wrong....

"As a retired lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force, Michael Bell Sr. says he's been a part of mishap investigations before. He was expecting a long, drawn-out investigation into his own son's death — not a decision made by the same police department in just a couple of days.... He says he knew the police had not even talked to the witnesses or gotten the report back from the crime lab....

"The Bell family ended up filing a civil suit for wrongful death. Six years later, they received a $1.75 million settlement. But there was no admission of wrongdoing, and the police maintained that Michael Bell Jr. caused his own death.

"The family used the settlement money to fund a grassroots campaign. They took out ads in the New York Times, in USA Today and on radio and created TV commercials.... Bell bought every available billboard in Milwaukee with slogans like: 'When Police Kill, Should They Judge Themselves?'

"'After we created enough ruckus, the unions ended up sitting down with us and talking with us,' Bell says. They told him that if he wanted to take the billboards down, they would work with him in crafting the legislation he sought.

"The law they put forth would make Wisconsin the first state in the nation to mandate, on the legislative level, that if an officer was involved with a loss of life, that outside investigators must come in and collect the data and investigate that shooting.

"This past April, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker passed the bill into law."

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