Governor Scott Walker has signed into law a bill requiring outside investigators to take the lead on deaths involving law enforcement officers. The new law requires a team of at least two investigators from an outside agency to lead reviews of such deaths. It also requires reports of custody death investigations throughout the state to be publicly released if criminal charges are not filed against the officers involved. The law makes Wisconsin the first in the nation to require an independent investigation of officer-involved deaths.
The bill’s authors, state Representative Garey Bies (R-Sister Bay) and Representative Chris Taylor (D-Madison) were joined at the Milwaukee signing ceremony by family members of the deceased, law enforcement, and community advocates who worked together on language for the bill.
“There has always been agreement that if the initial investigation isn’t handled correctly everything spirals downhill from there,” said Bies. “The public begins to lose trust in police-officers and that leaves our officers in harm’s way. An independent investigation process allows all parties involved to move forward with some peace of mind.”
The bill was prompted by the deaths of Paul Heenan, fatally shot by a Madison police officer outside his home last year, Derek Williams, who died after begging for help and gasping for breath in the back of a Milwaukee police squad car in 2011, and Michael Bell, shot in the head at close range by Kenosha police in his family’s driveway in 2004. All three men were unarmed.