After nearly a decade of work, Michael M. Bell reached a major milestone Tuesday night.
The state Assembly voted without objection to send a bill to the Senate requiring independent investigations of all officer-involved deaths in Wisconsin.
He waited seven hours in Madison for the vote on Assembly Bill 409, and after it came, he was overcome by emotion.
“I didn’t know it was going to be so emotional for me,” Bell said. “I was sitting between the legislators. We were getting our pictures taken, and I told them, ‘I’m just thinking about my son.’ I had to turn around and gather myself because I’ve spent the last 10 years working on this.”
Bell has been pushing for the law since his son, Michael E. Bell, 21, was fatally shot while struggling with Kenosha Police Department officers in November 2004.
The shooting was ruled justified, but the Bell family filed a federal lawsuit against the city, which was settled out of court in 2010 for $1.8 million.
Afterward, Bell and family members stepped up their campaign for reform. In 2011 and 2012, their cause gained momentum with a police shooting of an unarmed man in Madison and an incident in Milwaukee when a man died while being held in a Milwaukee Police Department squad car.
The vote came with no floor debate. The bill’s author, Rep. Garey Bies, R-Sister Bay, co-author Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, and Rep. Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, commented on its importance and the significance of the state’s five largest law enforcement associations endorsing it.
Bell said he didn’t know whether it would pass without objections.
“It’s been such an up-and-down thing,” he said. He attributed its passage to the law enforcement association leaders offering their input and being able to mull it over with their memberships.
“It’s a good bill,” Bell said. “It’s good for law enforcement, and it’s good for the community. I think it took some time (for law enforcement) to reflect on the whole situation, understand all the facts. They recognize we’re sincere, and there truly was a problem.”
As the bill moves forward, he and fellow supporters are looking to identify potential Senate sponsors.
“I do know of some, but I don’t know if I can disclose any names right now. So, I’m just going to leave it at that,” Bell said.
Bies, a retired, 31-year Door County deputy and chief deputy sheriff, thanked Bell from the floor for approaching him in 2012 and asking him to work on the bill.
“Michael Bell, this is for you,” Bies said. “We’re put on this earth to accomplish certain things, and I think this is one of the things I was brought here for.”
Barca noted the bill’s bipartisan support.
“It shows what can be done when people put aside their differences and focus on achievement,” Barca said.
“We didn’t always agree, but we did keep talking until we could reach a compromise,” Taylor said in thanking law enforcement representatives for their cooperation.