It has been 14 years since Michael Bell Jr., a young Wisconsin man, was fatally shot by police in his own driveway. His father, Michael Bell, is still fighting for justice.
Bell Jr. was just 21 when he was driving home from an evening out. He arrived without incident, but then a police car pulled up behind him. The cops had followed him home, believing him to be driving under the influence. Naturally, Bell Jr. objected to the situation — remember, he drove home safely — and soon he was scuffling with three officers who had him bent over the hood of his car. One yelled, “He has my gun!” Moments later, another shot Bell Jr. point blank in the head, killing him in front of his mother, sister and neighbors.
The Kenosha County police conducted an internal investigation and cleared themselves of all wrongdoing in three days flat. They decided without interviewing eyewitnesses or even waiting for the crime lab results to come back with forensic details.
The elder Bell, a former military pilot, wasn’t satisfied. The officers’ testimony didn’t match even basic medical evidence: The cop who shot him said he was standing to the left of Bell Jr. and thus couldn’t verify whether he actually grabbed the gun. But Bell Jr. was shot on the right side of his head, not the left.
Bell hired an independent investigator, a retired detective from the same police department. He found further evidence of a cover-up: “We discovered that the officer had mistakenly hooked his gun on a car mirror,” Bell said. “There was no DNA or fingerprints on the gun or holster, and none of the eye witnesses saw Michael’s hand on a gun or holster.”
The officer may have sincerely thought Bell Jr. was tugging on his gun, but it was just the car. And even though Bell Jr.’s mother and sister were yelling that he was unarmed, that he did not have the gun, he was executed on the spot.
In 2010, the Bell family won a civil settlement against the police department, and Bell has used a lot of that money to continue advocating for a new investigation into what happened to his son.
In 2011, he launched a statewide ad campaign, including buying every available billboard in Milwaukee, to ask why police should be permitted to investigate themselves. Remarkably, it worked, and Wisconsin is now the only state in the union that mandates independent probes into police shootings. It’s a law that should be duplicated in every state around the country.
But that doesn’t help Bell Jr.’s case, because the law isn’t retroactive. This week, Bell spent nearly $65,000 to place a full-page ad in The Washington Post demanding a new official investigation of what happened to his son:
“Nobody understands what it takes to get to this level, to bring this kind of awareness to it,” Bell said of his decision to keep up his campaign for justice. “The best way to describe is that it’s my duty.”
You can help him fulfill that duty by signing his petition here.