Brief

Governor’s office rejects plea for investigation of attorney general

By: - November 23, 2021 5:43 am
Bell's notebooks

Bell’s complaint and related documents fill two loose-leaf binders. (Erik Gunn | Wisconsin Examiner)

The chief lawyer for Gov. Tony Evers has told Michael Bell of Kenosha that the governor lacks the power to act on Bell’s complaint targeting Attorney General Josh Kaul in connection with the 2004 police killing of Bell’s son.

Bell urged Evers in late October to investigate Kaul because, Bell said, the attorney general had repeatedly declined to respond to Bell’s request to discuss his son’s death. Bell has been raising concerns about the Kenosha Police investigation of his son’s death, asserting that numerous inconsistencies in police accounts demand a new look at the case.

In a letter that Bell received in the mail on Saturday, Nov. 20, Ryan Nilsestuen, Evers’ chief legal counsel, told Bell that the state Department of Justice is not subject to the governor’s office. 

“The Department of Justice is an independent agency overseen by the attorney general, who is an elected constitutional officer,” the letter states. “The governor does not have authority to investigate DOJ.”

The letter also notes that crime victims can file complaints with the Wisconsin Crime Victims Board, and that the U.S. Justice Department Civil Rights Division “has authority to review whether local law enforcement agencies have violated an individual’s constitutional rights.”

In an email message to the Wisconsin Examiner, Bell said that Evers, along with Kaul, “continue to sidestep this issue.” Noting that he had taken out an ad in the New York Times last week to publicize his concerns — at what he suggested as potential risk for legal liability to himself — Bell said he believes that Evers “must address underlying police corruption” reflected in the handling of his son’s death and in subsequent Kenosha police shootings, including the one in August 2020 when Jacob Blake was left paralyzed.

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Erik Gunn
Erik Gunn

Senior Reporter 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.

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