Sen. Chris Larson, Rep. David Crowley introduce Jail Death Transparency Act

Posted at 9:55 AM, Mar 29, 2017
and last updated 2017-03-29 18:27:41-04

State lawmakers are looking for transparency and accountability with a new bill requiring independent investigations into jail deaths.

Four people died at the Milwaukee County Jail over the span of six months in 2016, including Terril Thomas, whose death was ruled homicide by dehydration. The Milwaukee Police are conducting the criminal investigation in that case. But, the Milwaukee County Sheriff's office is investigating the other three. It's a trend lawmakers hope to change.

Sen. Chris Larson, Rep. David Crowley and Rep. David Bowen, all Milwaukee Democrats, hoped for bi-partisan support of a proposal Wednesday that changes the 2014 law requiring external investigations for shootings involving law officers. They want to require an investigation by two investigators from a different department than the one the correctional officer involved in the death works for.

"In Milwaukee Co. Alone four people have died under the supervision of Sheriff Clarke. With only one of these resulting in an external investigation," Crowley said.

"Currently DOC does review deaths at facilities, however these review sometimes don't start for months," Larson said.

Wisconsin Justice Advocates said it's a move in the right direction.

"This is by no means trying to criminalize anybody. But if there is wrongdoing, we'll find it out, if there's some policies or procedures that need changing, we'll upgrade them," said Willie Brisco from WISDOM.

Lawmakers believe this would be the first law of its kind. They said 60 percent of jail deaths are already investigated by outside entities, but they want that to be standard.

"We want to make sure that there is transparency for the sake of our families, for the sake of our community so that there is trust in our system," Bowen said.

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