A Racine County Circuit Court judge has rejected a petition for a special prosecutor to investigate the 2004 shooting death of Michael E. Bell, finding “there are no crimes that can be charged and effectively prosecuted.”
Bell was shot and killed by a Kenosha Police Department officer during a struggle with officers outside Bell’s home on Nov. 9, 2004, a shooting that local police declared after an internal investigation was justified.
Since then, his father Michael M. Bell has been waging a public campaign to have the case reopened. In November 2018, he filed a petition asking the court to appoint a special prosecutor to look into his son’ s death through a John Doe investigation. The petition, while filed in Kenosha County court, was heard by Racine County Circuit Court Judge Timothy Boyle after Kenosha County’s Chief Judge Jason Rossell recused himself.
In a decision issued Friday, Boyle said he reviewed all of the investigatory material presented to the court and found that no possible criminal charges could arise from a new look at the case.
“Every case will have some conflicting information. In view of the same here within the context of the totality and the age of the case, however, it is the court’s opinion that there are no viable charges that can be issued. Therefore, the petition is denied,” Boyle wrote.
Bell was critical of Boyle’s decision in a statement sent to the Kenosha News Monday evening, saying that Boyle “chose to close ranks, cherry pick weak evidence and ignore forensics.”
“The WI criminal justice system had the ability to honor the intent of Wisconsin’s John Doe statute,” Bell stated. “Our family and civilian eye witnesses watched the execution of my son and we know the truth.”
Bell also stated that the family had filed two motions with Boyle to see Graveley’s filings in the case, saying that “those motions were ignored without response.”
“Judge Boyle refused to appoint an independent special prosecutor, thus allowing the Kenosha County DA, despite obvious conflicts of interest, to allow a flawed two-day investigation by the KPD, to go unchallenged,” Bell said.
“I insure the public that this is not over and we will publicly reveal our discoveries in the near future.”
Though Bell asserts that his motions to see Graveley’s filings were “ignored without response,” in the text of Boyle’s decision he writes that the court “had the Clerk of Courts advise Mr. Bell that the materials would be sealed until review and final decision by the Court,” and that the denial was also issued because the court already had Bell’s petition and his supporting materials.
In his decision, Boyle said that there is no potential for a successful second-degree intentional homicide charge, saying conflicting statements of multiple witnesses of the shooting do not support the charge.
Boyle’s decision states “the only possible charges that could be considered” would be misconduct in public office, perjury and false swearing, as the senior Bell alleges Kenosha police officers involved in the incident were not truthful in testimony. However, Boyle stated, the statute of limitations on all of those charge has run out.
The younger Bell was killed after a confrontation after he stepped out of his car outside his home after an officer followed him to the scene for a traffic stop. Bell resisted arrest, drawing other officers to the scene. During the struggle, one officer shouted that Bell had the officer’s gun and another officer at the scene shot and killed the 21-year-old.
The Bell family sued the city over the death and received a $1.75 million settlement.
Since then, the senior Bell, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, has campaigned for higher levels of accountability in police-involved shootings. At the state level, he lobbied successfully for a law that requires an outside investigation whenever there is a police-involved shooting or when someone dies in police custody. Wisconsin was the first state to pass such legislation.
But he has also focused on reopening the investigation into his son’s death, both through legal petitions and a public effort that has included a billboard campaign and print and broadcast advertising.
As Boyle noted in his ruling, Bell “has already had meetings with and/or filed same or similar requests and/or materials to multiple government and law enforcement offices including but not limited to, the office of then Governor Scott Walker, the office of then State Representative Jim Kreuser, former Attorney General Pet Lautenschlager, former Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the Kenosha County Police Department, the Kenosha County District Attorney’s office, the Kenosha County Sheriff’s Department and the Kenosha City Council. Each of these governmental bodies have declined to initiate and reopen any further investigation or bring forth charges.”
Boyle states in his decision that, despite past publicity about the case, he was unfamiliar with it and has no relationship with anyone involved with the case.
In making his decision, Boyle wrote, he reviewed the petition and evidence presented by Bell, as well as reports and documents he directed Graveley to provide the court, including all of the investigatory reports and materials from the case.
Wisconsin law allows citizens who are dissatisfied when a district attorney fails to pursue criminal charges in a case to petition the court to appoint a special prosecutor through the state’s John Doe law. The state law is unique, and citizen petitions are rarely granted.
John Doe proceedings are typically not public documents while pending. In the order, Boyle states that, after his review, he saw no compelling reason not to make the submitted material available to the public, noting that neither Bell nor Graveley had voiced an objection to making the documents public.