Police shot and killed Michael Bell Jr. more than 13 years ago after they say he had reached for and grabbed an officer’s gun — but details of that story don’t add up, his father claims.
It’s what’s leading Michael Bell Sr. to purchase an advertisement in The Washington Post, demanding that a further inquiry be made into his son’s death.
Bell Sr. spent nearly $65,000 on the ad and explained that the death of his son still hurts more than a decade later.
“Unless you've gone through it, it's a degree of suffering that nobody else can understand,” he said.
Bell Jr. was pulled over in front of his house in 2004 by Kenosha, Wisconsin, police, who claimed he was drunk and uncooperative. A scuffle between Bell Jr. and the police occurred, and at one point an officer yelled out that the suspect had grabbed his gun. Bell Jr. was shot in the head and died shortly after.
The internal affairs department of the Kenosha Police looked into the matter, but after two days they determined that lethal use against Bell Jr. was justified.
Bell Jr.’s family disagreed and sued for unlawful use of deadly force. They discovered that elements of the officers’ stories didn’t match the evidence.
Witnesses to the attack — including Bell Jr.’s sister and mother, who had witnessed the shooting from inside their own home — state that officers weren’t standing where they said they were. The positioning of where the bullet hit Bell Jr. in the head also doesn’t match where officers were placed according to their own accounts.
Hoping to avoid court, the city of Kenosha settled with the family for $1.75 million. But new evidence about a broken car mirror — and the possibility that the officer who thought his gun was being tugged by Bell Jr. had actually run into that mirror — leads Bell Sr. to believe the city disregarded substantial evidence, leading the father to request that a new investigation be opened.
Bell Sr. may not be able to get that new investigation due to the settlement. But his efforts in the past, including putting up billboards on highways, helped Wisconsin become the only state in the country that requires an independent review of every officer-involved shooting that leads to a death — a review that is not handled by the local police department, but by a separate state agency.
More states ought to consider similar legislation. With nearly 1,000 officer-related killings last year alone, there are numerous families like Bell Jr.’s that deserve to have their family members’ deaths examined by a separate agency.
If Bell Sr.’s ad in The Washington Post cannot get him the investigation he desires, perhaps it can get future shootings across the country to be scrutinized to a higher degree. In that way, at least some good can come of the tragedy that Bell Sr. continues to live with each and every day.