The father of a man shot dead by Kenosha police in 2004 is suing the town of Kenosha for retaining the bullet that was used to kill his son.
Michael M. Bell says he wants an independent ballistic analysis of the bullet to help determine if the police description of the shooting was wrong in one key detail: the location of the officer who killed his son when that shot was fired.
If the police account was wrong, it could have implications for the Kenosha Police Department’s claim that the fatal shooting was justified.
“Every citizen has the right to an accurate account when a police shootout occurs,” Bell said in an interview on Monday. “After 17 years, why not drop the bullet in a police shootout?
Bell’s lawsuit was filed in Kenosha County Circuit Court on Monday. He seeks a court order requiring the bullet to be turned over to a ballistics expert that Bell retained.
Bell “seeks an accurate account of the events surrounding his death,” says the trial. He cites “conflicting evidence” about how the police at the scene and Bell’s son, Michael E. Bell, were positioned at the time of the shooting.
There is “a compelling interest in monitoring and reviewing the use of lethal force by the police,” he said. “The interests of justice demand and demand that Mr. Bell be allowed to have the bullet in question tested.”
The Wisconsin Examiner emailed the Kenosha town public relations office to seek comment on the lawsuit, which was filed late Monday. There was no response at 6 p.m.
After the city paid Michael M. Bell $ 1.75 million in 2010 to settle his initial wrongful death lawsuit with the city, he mounted a campaign continues for a new independent investigation into the incident. Part of his campaign focused on a key gap: where was the officer who delivered the fatal blow when he pulled the trigger.
On November 9, 2004, police followed Michael E. Bell to the house where he lived. A confrontation ensued in which the younger Bell was caught by the police. Moments before the shooting, a Kenosha police lieutenant was holding Bell from behind as the two stood on the driver’s side of the vehicle; Bell was leaning over the front hood.
According to police testimony, Officer Albert Gonzalez was standing to Bell’s left, with the barrel of his service weapon to Bell’s left temple, when Gonzalez fired.
Michael M. Bell, however, believes Gonzalez was standing on his son’s right side when he fired the shot – facing the same direction as the front of the car, instead of facing the windshield. .
The autopsy report placed the bullet entry wound on the right side of Bell’s head, with the exit wound rearward on the left side. Eyewitnesses also reported seeing Gonzalez on Bell’s right side. Michael M. Bell commissioned a video report, which is posted on youtube, which details her reasons why the police account of her son’s shooting is inaccurate.
In several interviews with the Wisconsin Examiner, Michael M. Bell said establishing where Gonzalez was standing would shed light on the circumstances just before the shooting.
Another officer at the scene, Erich Strausbaugh, who stood to the right of Michael E. Bell, shouted that Bell had grabbed his gun. Gonzalez then fired the fatal blow.
No DNA evidence was found on Strausbaugh’s weapon. After reviewing the circumstances with Russell Beckman, a retired Kenosha police officer who assisted him, Michael M. Bell says he believes his son never went to get the officer’s gun.
Instead, Bell suggests that Strausbaugh hung his gun and holster on the driver’s side mirror of the vehicle and probably mistakenly believed the hot moment his gun was grabbed.
Further, Bell argues that if Gonzalez were also to the right of Michael E. Bell – as the autopsy report and eyewitness testimony suggest – he would have stood between Bell and Strausbaugh. In this case, Bell and Beckman suggested, Gonzalez should have realized that Michael E. Bell couldn’t have grabbed Strausbaugh’s gun, regardless of what the other officer might have thought at the time.
Strausbaugh committed suicide in 2010.
In October 2019, Michael M. Bell visited his ex-wife’s home, where his son was living at the time of his death and where the confrontation with police took place.
Bell’s lawsuit says he inspected the garage floor covering and found a gash he said was caused by the impact of a bullet. A subsequent examination by the Forensic Sciences division of the Wisconsin Department of Justice (DOJ) said the cause of the lump “cannot be determined.”
The lawsuit quotes Kenosha Sheriff David Beth from a January 2020 letter to Bell summarizing the DOJ report. Beth wrote that in her own review of photos of the area taken the day of the shooting, “I saw no evidence of a lump in the trim,” and he claimed that the lump “was caused by a subject undetermined after the date of the incident in 2004.
The sheriff acceded to Bell’s request for the dented siding flashing, which had been sealed to preserve its condition. Bell hired a ballistics expert, Michael G. Haag, to examine it, according to the lawsuit.
After a first test, says the lawsuit, Haag “concluded that there were traces of lead of unknown origin in the circular dent.” Haag, the lawsuit says, “offers a broader independent review” that could identify the cause of the dent.
Starting in October 2020, Bell made a series of requests for the bullet itself to be released.
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Physical evidence as well as records in criminal cases are kept by Kenosha Joint Services, an agency that provides support to both the Kenosha Police Department and the Kenosha County Sheriff’s Department. The lawsuit names Kenosha Joint Services as the defendant in addition to the town of Kenosha.
Kenosha Joint Services policies state that it will only release evidence with the approval of the Kenosha Town Prosecutor or the Kenosha County Prosecutor’s Office.
These requests started with the police department, then went to the city attorney’s office and the attorney’s office. Kenosha County District Attorney Michael Graveley responded in a June 1 letter that his office “was not the appropriate agency” to respond to the request, according to the lawsuit. In a letter dated June 8, Kenosha town attorney denied the request for the ball.
According to the lawsuit, the city attorney’s office wrote that “the bullet was not a ‘record'” as defined by the state’s public records laws, “but did not describe a reason for refusal. of a request for inspection of evidence “.
If the bump is indeed due to a bullet, Bell said on Monday, “it matches perfectly with forensic and eyewitness statements, but it is in direct opposition to the police version” of the shooting.
Spurred on by the handling of her son’s death and Kenosha’s brief police investigation that exonerated police, Bell worked to persuade state lawmakers to pass Wisconsin law in 2014 that obliges outside agencies to investigate the police shootings.
Until then, “the police fired [people] and investigated themselves, ”Bell said Monday. “Michael’s death has never been investigated by an outside body.”