Wisconsin police shooting: The unusual law that'll make this investigation different than others


On Friday, 19-year-old Tony Robinson was killed by a Madison, Wisc. police officer, according to the Wisconsin State-Journal.

It was yet another incident in which an unarmed black teen was killed by a white police officer, in this case Officer Matt Kenny.


What makes this case different is that Wisconsin recently passed a law requiring all police incidents resulting in the death of a civilian to be investigated by an independent agency.

No other state has such a measure, according to NPR.

The legislation, signed into law last spring, is largely the result of a decade-long campaign by a man named Michael Bell whose son, Michael Jr., was shot and killed by a police officer in November 2004 after the officer pulled his vehicle over.


The Bells are white.

Although a follow-up investigation found no wrongdoing by the officer involved, Bell’s family received a $1.75 million wrongful death settlement.


Bell Sr. subsequently poured that money into an effort to change Wisconsin’s laws so that a third party would be brought in to investigate civilian deaths resulting from police incidents.

He bought dozens of billboards around the state that asked questions like, “When Police Kill, Should They Judge Themselves? and “When Police Kill, Where Is The Mayor?”


"After we created enough ruckus, the [police] unions ended up sitting down with us and talking with us," Bell told NPR. The unions responded by saying that they’d work to pass his legislation if he took the billboards down.


Bell Sr. could not immediately be reached for comment.

The campaign gained momentum after the families of Derek Williams, who died after suffocating in the back of a Milwaukee squad car in 2011, and Paul Heenan, who was fatally shot by a Madison officer during a confrontation in 2012, joined it, according to Truth-Out.org.


Wisconsin State Rep. Garey Bies, a co-sponsor of the bill, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel last spring that he was troubled by the three deaths and their aftermaths.

"I just saw a strong need to have some openness and some credibility, to assure the public that police are there to protect and serve and be upfront and honest with them," Bies said. "I believe the majority of police are, but when these things come up, it leaves a real question in your mind of what took place."


On Saturday, the Wisconsin Department of Criminal Investigations, a unit of the Wisconsin Department of Justice office, confirmed it would take over the inquiry into Robinson’s death, and has begun collecting evidence.

"We must give them time to do their job," Madison Mayor Paul Soglin told reporters Saturday.


That same day, less than 24 hours after Robinson's death, protesters marched on Madison demanding justice.

Rob covers business, economics and the environment for Fusion. He previously worked at Business Insider. He grew up in Chicago.

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