Bill passed to hold officers accountable if suspect dies in custody

MADISON (WITI) -- A new bill passed Thursday, January 23rd by the Criminal Justice Committee is aimed at holding police accountable when someone dies at the hands of an officer.

Michael Bell began the push for the bill using the nearly $2 million he was awarded in a settlement with the City of Kenosha after an officer killed his son in 2004.

"I'm excited about it because of the fact this legitimizes our claims," said Bell.

The bill originally mandated that any time someone died in police custody, an outside agency must review the incident -- but in this amended version, the City of Milwaukee is exempt.

"I do not understand why there would be the option for Milwaukee not to be in this. Certainly, those of us that are involved in these types of cases feel it's crucial there be an outside agency involved in investigating any type of in custody death," said Jonathan Safran, attorney for the family of Derek Williams who died in Milwaukee police custody in 2011.

The President of the Milwaukee Police Association, Mike Crivello, says Wisconsin's largest city already has a good system in place.

"It's not just the Milwaukee Police Department involved in that investigation, it is the Milwaukee County District Attorney involved in the investigation along with their investigative arm. Also involved is the Fire and Police Commission and also involved is the Medical Examiner," Crivello said.

While Bell supports both the old and new versions of the bill, he acknowledges there is concern over whether Milwaukee should be included.

"Law enforcement in the rest of the state of Wisconsin is probably furious about this because a number of the problems that are occurring in the state of Wisconsin appear to be occurring in Milwaukee," said Bell.

State Representative Evan Goyke from Milwaukee, who sits on the Criminal Justice Committee, says while he initially voted "yes," he wanted to change his vote to "no." Goyke says he's upset that Milwaukee is exempt and believes the bill should do more to give families of the deceased access to the investigation.