Father of man killed by police in 2004 accuses prosecutor in emails to lawmakers 

By: - July 20, 2021 5:38 am

Michael M. Bell, seen in the video he has posted to YouTube about his son’s death. (Screen capture | YouTube)

The father of a man killed by Kenosha police nearly 17 years ago is continuing his campaign to reexamine the case, now seeking to draw the Kenosha County District Attorney into his allegations of a police cover-up.

On Monday, Michael M. Bell sent an email message to all Wisconsin legislators, as well as a number of other government officials and Wisconsin news organizations. He alleges that in a 2017 letter he received from District Attorney Michael Graveley, the DA may have misrepresented information about potential evidence in the 2004 shooting death of Bell’s son.

Those same allegations were the subject of an investigation that former Kenosha Police Detective Russell Beckman sought with the state Office of Lawyer Regulation (OLR) earlier this year. Since retiring about a decade ago, Beckman has been assisting Bell in Bell’s efforts to seek a new investigation of the shooting. 

In May, OLR rejected Beckman’s grievance, and Beckman filed an appeal of that rejection on July 12. Bell’s email message Monday includes a link to Beckman’s appeal petition to OLR.

Graveley did not reply Monday to an email message from the Wisconsin Examiner seeking comment on Bell’s email and the Beckman appeal. In his response to the OLR on April 29, following Beckman’s original grievance, however, Graveley called the allegations “completely without merit.”

Bell told the Wisconsin Examiner Monday that he had not yet heard from lawmakers or other officials to whom he’d sent the email message.

Bell said he wants Wisconsin to take local prosecutors out of investigating fatal police shootings in their own jurisdiction, a change that has been enacted in New Jersey and imposed by executive order in New York.

He said he also wants to see Wisconsin’s John Doe secret investigation process to be improved, because he did not have an opportunity to review or respond when the DA responded to Bell’s 2018 petition for a John Doe investigation of his son’s death. 

Bell’s email on Monday, as well as the OLR grievance and appeal that it referred to, revolve around evidence related to the events surrounding the fatal police shooting of Bell’s son.

Bell has long asserted that official police accounts of the 2004 shooting include significant inconsistencies and misrepresentations of the events. 

His son, Michael E. Bell, was shot in the driveway of his home in a confrontation after police followed him there. In the course of the confrontation, while the younger Bell was being held from behind by one of three officers at the scene, a second officer standing next to him yelled that Bell had seized his service weapon. The third officer, who had had his gun trained on Bell, then shot Bell in the head, killing him. 

Investigators found no DNA evidence on the second officer’s gun. Michael M. Bell and Beckman contend that shows that the younger Bell never had his hand on that officer’s weapon. 

Michael M. Bell, the father, contends that the second officer’s gun and holster might have gotten hooked on the vehicle’s side mirror in the confrontation. In the heat of the moment the officer could have sincerely believed that the younger Bell had seized the weapon but was mistaken, leading to the fatal shooting, Bell says.

Nevertheless, Bell believes that a follow-up investigation is necessary to ascertain what actually happened in those moments, and that in thwarting the investigation, Kenosha authorities may be covering up wrongdoing. 

Bell had emphasized the absence of DNA on the gun when he met with Graveley in 2017 to urge him to reexamine the case. Bell also cited it in the petition he filed in circuit court in 2018 seeking a secret John Doe investigation. 

In a 2017 letter to Bell after their meeting, Graveley stated that “in circumstances where the firearm or holster is simply touched by the party, and for an extremely limited period of time, you would almost never see a positive test result for the presence of that person’s DNA.”

Graveley included that letter in his filings with the court opposing a John Doe investigation. The court subsequently rejected Bell’s petition for the investigation.

Beckman’s OLR grievance against Graveley alleges that in his 2017 letter, Graveley misrepresented evidence in the case, the science of touch DNA and his contacts with the state Crime Lab when he sought an opinion about touch DNA evidence.

“And for him to put it into a John Doe [petition response] and submit it to a judge in a police-involved shooting, I think magnifies the problem of what’s really going on in Wisconsin with police reform,” Bell said Monday. 

Beckman’s appeal to OLR consists of a 107-page document that seeks to rebut, paragraph by paragraph, Graveley’s April 29 response to Beckman’s earlier grievance.

Graveley, in that response, stated that he stood by his earlier statements, and argued that the absence of DNA evidence was not enough to prove that Michael E. Bell had not touched the officer’s gun or holster in the incident. Graveley also accused Bell and Beckman of “attempting to use the Office of Lawyer Regulation as a weapon of intimidation.”


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Erik Gunn
Erik Gunn

Deputy Editor Erik Gunn reports and writes on work and the economy, health policy and related subjects, for the Wisconsin Examiner. He spent 24 years as a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine, Isthmus, The Progressive, BNA Inc., and other publications, winning awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, beat coverage, business writing, and commentary. An East Coast native, he previously covered labor for The Milwaukee Journal after reporting for newspapers in upstate New York and northern Illinois. He's a graduate of Beloit College (English Comp.) and the Columbia School of Journalism. Off hours he is the Examiner's resident Springsteen and Jackson Browne fanboy and model railroad nerd.