Lies and slander.
That’s how Kenosha Police Chief John Morrissey on Tuesday characterized accusations made against him by Michael M. Bell.
Speaking publicly for the first time about Bell’s campaign against him, Morrissey said “the accusations ... are slanderous,” adding that independent investigators “confirm the accusations are lies.”
The response came after community members and law enforcement personnel packed Tuesday’s meeting of the Kenosha Police and Fire Commission, showing their support for Morrissey. More than 20 people spoke on his behalf during the meeting.
“It was heartwarming to see a large turnout of officers, both active and retired, as well as citizens,” he said. “(Bell) has turned this crusade into a personal vendetta against me, and I do not know why.”
Morrissey also defended the department, saying a complaint filed by Bell with the U.S. Attorney on May 28, which accused the department of civil rights violation “reminiscent of parts of the South prior to the civil rights movement” as unjust.
“The city of Kenosha and the members of the Kenosha Police Department do not deserve this,” Morrissey said. “I can walk away, but the majority members of the (Kenosha Police Department) cannot. It is time to move on in a positive and productive manner.”
Bell, who also attended the meeting, said he wasn’t surprised.
“I knew all the people who showed up to speak would talk about how great they think the chief is, but not one person addressed the matters at hand,” Bell said.
“Ghandi once said, ‘First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win,’” Bell said. “We were attacked (Tuesday), but we aren’t giving up.”
Bell launched a campaign eight years ago calling for outside review of cases involving police use of force after his son, Michael E. Bell, 21, was shot to death in November 2004 by a Kenosha police officer. The city eventually reached a $1.75 million out-of-court settlement with the Bell family after the family filed a federal civil rights case.
“Although the most serious incident was the murder and coverup of the truth in the Michael Edward Bell case, there are about two dozen other cases of official misconduct, including the July 7, 2012, tasing of Keenan Smith,” wrote Ira Robins, a private investigator hired by Bell. “In reviewing that case, I have found what I believe to be many irregular, improper, unethical and criminal actions have been committed by Chief Morrissey and others.”
Robins said Morrissey lied about providing an independent and unbiased review of the Smith incident, in which a police officer stunned Smith with a Taser.
The commission unanimously accepted Morrissey’s decision in February not to discipline the officer. Morrissey’s recommendations were determined by a combination of his own findings and reportedly independent reviews.
The case was reviewed by Randall Revling, litigation consultant and expert in the use of force by law enforcement officers, and Chuck Joyner, a retired CIA and FBI special agent with experience in use-of-force training and consultations.
Bell has said he has documents proving that Morrissey tampered with the outside investigations and made changes to the reports. Revling and Joyner provided statements Tuesday saying those claims are not true.
When asked why he reviewed the case for free, Revling said he does not charge Wisconsin agencies for such reviews.
Joyner said Morrissey had no effect on his report, and he was surprised the case ever came to him in the first place.
“I had a chance to review the complaint filed by Mr. Robins, and obviously there is an agenda unrelated to the Taser incident,” Joyner said. “I understand various groups trying to capitalize on an incident to further their agenda. However, this Taser incident was a poor choice as a rallying point. The use of force was clearly lawful.”
During his investigation, Robins requested a variety of documents, including emails and records of calls made between Morrissey and the reviewers.
Based on the information he received, Robins said Morrissey violated open records laws, influenced the editing process of the independent reviews and lied to the Police and Fire Commission.
Robins’ findings were delivered to the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, requesting a further investigation. Bell and Robins requested Morrissey be criminally charged and removed from his position.
A sampling of comments from Tuesday’s meeting:
“Bell is engaged in an exorbitant advertising campaign, which he says means to change the manner in which police shootings are investigated, but he is doing it unfairly by dragging the names of good officers through the mud and defaming the Kenosha Police Department.”
— Kenosha Police Detective Pete Deates, president of the Kenosha Professional Police Association.
“Carefully reviewing and assessing police officers’ decisions is an important process that cannot be accomplished publicly merely by advertising and reporting selective facts in paid media buys,” Kendall said. “It paints our officers in a false light, it serves no public purpose, and it betrays the dedication of our men and women in blue.”
— Kenosha Police Detective James Kendall
“We have to carefully choose our every move, our every word and our every step, all often in a split second. These split-second decisions are later scrutinized by others. The nature of our job is that when we make these decisions, we usually do not have the luxury of time, the assurance of accurate information and security.”
— Kenosha Police Detective Jason Melichar, who added that the internal investigation of Kenosha police officers is a tough, rigorous procedure aimed at finding the truth.
“(Morrissey) did nothing wrong, and yet, this is part of the Bell family’s attack on this community and the police department. It’s been unrelenting since the tragic death of their son.”
— Former Kenosha County District Attorney Robert Jambois