Image posted by Kenosha Professional Police Association prompts anger from community after Pablo Torres killed Aaron Siler, 26
Amidst national tension over perceived police brutality, Kenosha, Wisconsin, a city of roughly 100,000 on the shores of Lake Michigan, just north of Chicago, has come into focus.
The Kenosha Professional Police Association (KPPA) posted a billboard thanking the community for its support. Some residents question the message behind the ad. It features Pablo Torres, a young officer who shot two people within a 10-day period in March. In the second shooting, Torres killed 26-year-old Aaron Siler.
Police have said the shooting occurred after a chase, when Torres was confronted with a weapon. A spokesperson for the Siler family, Kathy Willie, told the Guardian the billboard was “hurtful”.
“To me that doesn’t make the department look good,” she said. “What are they trying to say? Are they trying to say he’s not guilty and they know that for a fact? Why are they thanking him?”
The investigation is ongoing. Torres is on administrative leave.
The Kenosha News called for the billboard to come down, and said: “The billboard, and events such as the Back the Badge rally in Pennoyer Park on Saturday, may be intended as support for law enforcement and appreciation for that support, but they could also be seen as attempts to intimidate people who might criticize the police.”
Another local outlet reported that Torres’s record shows nine citizen complaints for excessive use of force and seven departmental reprimands, including improper chase and failing to appear in court.
Michael Martin Bell is a retired air force pilot and long-time resident of Kenosha. In 2004 his son, Michael Edward, was shot in the head and killed by a police officer during a traffic stop. Bell and his son are white. The officer was cleared within 48 hours.
“Without the crime lab report being back, without the medical report being back, they’re ruling it justified,” Bell said. “The witness statement weren’t even taken.”
Bell told the Guardian this motivated him to advocate for change. He pushed for a 2014 Wisconsin law mandating that an external agency investigate officer-involved shootings.
Bell said that if he, a retired military officer with financial means, could lose a child to police violence, there was little hope for those with fewer levers to pull.
“I spent 10 years of my life on this,” he said. “I spent a million dollars of my money on this. I know the system is broken.”
Torres shot Siler on the day he returned to service after an administrative leave for shooting a 66-year old Vietnam vet , Terry Knight. Knight was reportedly suicidal and experiencing a post-traumatic episode. Torres shot Knight in the stomach. Knight was charged for recklessly endangering safety.
The KPPA issued a statement through its president, detective Pete Deates.
“The recent incidents in the community have greatly impacted many people including the officer, his family, and the entire police department,” it said. “We have been humbled by the outpouring of support the community has given us and we simply wanted to say thank you.”
Watch a video report about the controversy below: