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Even though a jury awarded the family of Michael Bell, Jr. $1.75 million when it sued for $200,000, the Bell family has used the money to continue its quest for changes in the review process when a cop shoots someone.
Kenosha police shot and killed 21-year-old Bell on Nov. 9, 2004. He had been pulled over for speeding and suspicion of drunk driving. The shooter said he thought Bell was reaching for a gun. Bell was shot by the same officer he was involved with in another case that he was to testify in the very next day.
Bell's father, Michael Sr., says the tapes of the shooting show a different scenario than the one police portrayed. But an investigation by the district attorney's office and police found the shooting justified. The DA at the time, Bob Jambois, now works for Gov. Jim Doyle.
Bell's father has taken his cause to a billboard on southbound I-894 near the Holt Avenue exit. The retired Air Force lieutenant colonel wants police shooting investigations to be conducted by independent third parties.
"I am a father who lost a son due to problems associated with the current law enforcement culture and training," he says on the Web site michaelbell.info.
The Bell family's argument is a similar one heard often in Milwaukee County where former District Attorney E. Michael McCann never found an unjustified police killing in his 30-plus years in office. Many families left courtrooms here in disbelief that their loved ones had died at the hands of police and there was no way to pursue justice.
A Kenosha County jury awarded the Bell family $1.75 million, though Kenosha Police Chief John Morrissey didn't agree with the jury.
"There is no question in my mind that this was justified use of deadly force," he said in a statement after the award last year. "It is a sad day in this country when insurance companies are allowed to settle a case based on dollars rather than what is just and right."
The senior Bell notes that state law covering the review process is the oldest in the nation at 125 years and that it unfairly gives police and prosecutors a bias towards siding with the cops. There are also no mechanics for an appeal to any decision.
He offers his solution: a review board would consist of three to five police chiefs or assistant police chiefs, either active or retired, appointed by the state attorney general to review a firearms discharge that has resulted in a serious injury or fatality. The local police chief would not be allowed to serve on the panel.
He contends the board would be able to maintain a certain amount of objectivity since it would be above local pressure to go easy on the cops and would have checks and balances.
Ruing old writing: State Rep. Mary Williams, a Republican who represents Up North Wisconsin haunts such as Price County, has had some interesting opponents in her brief stint in the Legislature. Her first race in 2002 was somewhat of an upset victory since she beat a popular and well-known county fair singer.
Now, Williams has launched a salvo against her Democratic opponent, Dana Schultz, who made the mistake of speaking her mind several years ago before she thrust herself in the public's political light.
Schultz, formerly of UW-Milwaukee, wrote in her blog a few years back that "I am from rural America and can relate, not rednecks, but 'hicks' rather. I know all about the huntin', fishin', snowmobilin', country music beltin', beer drinkin', working class, gossipin', people who attend Christian church every Sunday and are racist, sexist, and homophobic, but more just ignorant because of lack of exposure. This all rings a familiar bell. My instinct has been to leave -- go to school, visit for the fair, and plan to move to a city of some sort, maybe even abroad."
"If I ever ran for office, I would have to bite my tongue more and articulate inhibitions less," she tellingly wrote.
Williams is making sure Schultz gets bitten by that years-old missive.
"I'm shocked and offended by my opponent's clear disdain for the people she wants to represent in the Legislature," stated Williams. "Calling people from our area racists, sexists and ignorant is unbelievably offensive."
"My opponent is talking about the people I proudly call my friends and neighbors, people I know to be hard-working, smart individuals who value common sense and are doing their best to raise their families in an area they love," Williams said.
Budget buster: Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett's first budget ever without a tax increase was not hailed with the universal praise most taxpayers might expect.
County Exec Scott Walker, Barrett's GOP opponent in the governor's race, said Barrett "found religion" in his holding the line on taxes. Walker boasts his budgets never contained a tax increase, however they were largely viewed as myopic and full of fiction, leaving the County Board to plug the holes.
But Ald. Bob Donovan says Barrett's budget doesn't pass "the smell test" and called it smoke and mirrors. Donovan's concern is what it usually is, as chairman of the Public Safety Committee -- police protection.
"There's not even enough information in the budget on sworn strength of the (police) department to give the council direction during the run-up to the budget process," the oft-critic of the mayor said. "Why all of the smoke and mirrors and so little straight information?"
"This (lack of details) is very vague and very strange, and for God's sake I certainly hope the mayor isn't playing political games with the public safety of the citizens of Milwaukee," he said. "Why not just be honest, have some guts, and just tell us how many sworn officers we're going to be able put on the streets and when."
Donovan says the number of vacancies in the Police Department -- approaching 400 -- is "staggering" and overburdening other cops.
Donovan, as always, will introduce amendments to the budget adding more spots in recruiting classes.
"I fear this heavy load will mean that more officers will elect to hit the eject button and retire," he said.
An avid outdoors person he regularly takes extended paddling trips in the wilderness, preferring the hinterlands of northern Canada and Alaska. After a bet with a bunch of sailors, he paddled across Lake Michigan in a canoe.
He lives in Bay View.