CIVIL RIGHTS: $1.75 MILLION
Injuries claimed: Death, Emotional Distress
Court: United States District Court, Eastern District of Wisconsin
Case name: Estate of Michael Edward Bell, Kim Marie Bell, Michael Martin Bell, Shantae Bell v. Officer Erich R. Strausbaugh, Officer Erich S. Weidner, Lieutenant David H. Krueger, Officer Albert B. Gonzales, City of Kenosha
Case number: 05-CV-01176-CNC
Judge: Chief Judge C.N. Clevert, Jr.
Verdict & settlement: Settled prior to trial
Original amount sought: $5.25 million
Original offer: $50,000
Settlement amount: $1.75 million
Date of incident: Nov. 9, 2004
Disposition date: Feb. 5, 2010
Original filing date: Nov. 9, 2005
Plaintiffs attorney (firm): Patrick O. Dunphy, Brett A. Eckstein, Cannon & Dunphy, SC
Defendants attorney (firm): Gregg G. Gunta, Kevin P. Reak, Gunta & Reak, SC
Insurance carrier: Cities & Villages Mutual Insurance Company
Plaintiffs expert witnesses: John Baumgart (vocational expert), Karl Egge (economist), Bart Epstein and Terry Laber (blood spatter experts), Richard Ernest (ballistics expert), William Gaut (police practices and procedures expert), R. Paul McCauley, Ph.D. (police practices and procedures expert), Charles Wetli, M.D. (forensic examiner), P. Douglas Kelley, M.D. (medical examiner), Dan Krane, Ph.D. (DNA expert), Dennis Skogen, P.E. (accident reconstructionist),
Defendants expert witnesses: John Peters, Ph.D. (police practices and procedures expert); Robert Willis (police practices and procedures expert); Robert Krenz, P.E. (accident reconstructionist); William Lewinski, Ph.D. (policy psychologist); Alan Friedman, Ph.D. (DNA expert); Stuart James (blood spatter expert).
Plaintiff counsel’s summary of the facts: This case concerned numerous allegations of civil rights violations, including an unlawful stop, excessive use of force, excessive force by use of taser, and excessive use of deadly force by shooting the plaintiff Michael E. Bell at point blank range through the head. The circumstances surrounding the shooting were hotly contested, but the plaintiffs alleged the following:
In the early morning hours on Nov. 9, 2004, as Michael pulled his vehicle in front of his family’s townhouse, he was unlawfully detained by Officers Strausbaugh and Weidner without reasonable suspicion. After Michael passively resisted the officers’ commands, he was taken to the ground in his front yard and tased, in violation of the Kenosha Police Department’s policies and procedures governing the use of tasers. Michael tried to flee and ran along the side of the house to the back yard. The officers followed, and Lieutenant Krueger arrived to assist the officers. The skirmish awoke Michael’s mother and sister, who went outside and saw Michael being pummeled by the officers. They also saw that Michael was in handcuffs. The officers then threw Michael over the hood of a parked car in the driveway. While this was going on, Officer Gonzales arrived on scene and was running toward the officers with his gun drawn. While in route, Officer Strausbaugh yelled “he’s going for my gun,” and Michael’s mother and sister yelled “he doesn’t have it.” Officer Gonzales then shot Michael on the right side of the head at point blank range. Michael died shortly thereafter. The State Crime Laboratory tested Officer Strausbaugh’s gun and did not find Michael’s DNA on the gun. Michael’s fingerprints were also not found on the gun. The handcuffs that were allegedly used on Michael were also removed from the scene before evidence was collected.
During discovery, the plaintiffs’ alleged that the officers offered multiple and contradictory accounts for how the shooting actually occurred. The officers’ basic contention was that Officer Gonzales was on Michael’s left side when he shot Michael in the right side of the head. The plaintiffs alleged that the officers’ account was inconsistent with eyewitness observations, the autopsy report, ballistics evidence, and blood spatter evidence. In addition, the plaintiffs alleged that the use of force was excessive and in violation of Michael Fourth Amendment rights. The case was examined extensively by use of force experts, forensic experts for both sides — including ballistics, blood spatter experts, and medical examiners — and was defended vigorously by the law firm of Gunta & Reak, SC. Ultimately, the case settled at mediation with the aid of Justice Janine Geske.