Friends and family of Aaron Siler, a 26-year-old man killed by a Wisconsin police officer last month, are fuming over a billboard erected in support of their loved one’s killer. – a Kenosha cop named Pablo Torres who was fresh back on the job after a ten-day hiatus after he had shot another man.
The billboard shows the smiling officer next to a smiling police dog, with the words, “Thank you for your support, Kenosha.”
Siler’s family called the billboard a slap in the face.
“Every time I go to Kenosha, I go down that road, and I have to see that smile on his face knowing that I will never see that smile on Aaron’s face,” said Kathy Willie, a friend of the Siler family.
The Kenosha Professional Police Association, which created the billboard, issued the following statement:
The recent incidents in the community have greatly impacted many people including the officer, his family and the entire police department. We have been humbled by the outpouring of support the community has given us and we wanted to simply say thank you for that support.
According to the Kenosha Police Department’s Facebook page shortly after the shooting:
On March 14, 2015, at 0932 hours, officers of the Kenosha Police Department attempted to arrest a suspect on an active felony Probation and Parole warrant. The suspect initiated a vehicle pursuit with officers of the Kenosha Police Department. After crashing his vehicle, he took off running. Officers then pursued the suspect on foot.
When the suspect was confronted by Officer Pablo Torres, the suspect armed himself with a weapon. Officer Torres fired his handgun striking and killing the suspect. There were citizen witnesses to the incident.
The shooting will likely be found justified due to the alleged weapon as well as Siler’s criminal history.
But it’s still drawing scrutiny because it happened on Torres’ first day back to work after spending ten days on leave following the previous shooting.
According to the department’s press release on the first shooting:
On March 4, 2015, at 1142 hours, Kenosha County Joint Services Dispatch received a 911 call from a female reporting that her husband just went into the garage to “kill himself.”
Officers arrived at the home in the 1500 block of 84 Street to find the subject, a 64-year old Kenosha Man, armed with two knives, seated in a running vehicle in the garage. The subject failed to follow orders to drop the knives. Two officers deployed their Tasers, which had no effect on the subject. The subject exited the vehicle, continued to refuse orders to drop the knives and began to advance on the officers. In order to stop the threat, an 18-year veteran of the police force fired one round at the subject striking him in the abdomen. The subject was transported to a local hospital where he is being held on an emergency detention. He is expected to survive.
The man injured in that shooting, which was ruled justified earlier this month, was Terry Knight.
The investigation of the Siler shooting is ongoing and being handled by the Wisconsin Department of Justice’s Division of Criminal Investigation. That’s because of a law signed by Governor Scott Walker in 2014 that requires outside investigations whenever people die in police custody. The law was lobbied for by Michael Bell, Sr. whose son Michael, Jr. was killed by Kenosha police in 2004.
While the state-led investigations are preferable to the internal investigations police departments typically conduct after shootings, it’s questionable how independent they truly are. When the state conducted an investigation of a Milwaukee police officer who killed a mentally ill man, the first such investigation under the law, the Journal Sentinel reported that at least half the agency’s personnel were former employees of the Milwaukee Police Department.
So it’s still blue investigating blue.
UPDATE (4/25/15): Fox 6 obtained nearly 200 pages of records on Torres and found that during his career, he has racked up nine excessive force complaints (none of which were sustained) and seven verbal reprimands. He’s also received a number of commendations.