Kenosha police officer commits suicide www.privateofficer.com
Kenosha WI Nov 2 2010 A Kenosha police officer involved in a controversial and highly publicized fatal shooting in 2004 committed suicide early Sunday, according to Chief John Morrissey.
Officer Erich R. Strausbaugh, 34, of Franklin was having marital problems and had been stressed in the aftermath of the shooting of 21-year-old Michael E. Bell, according to statements by his wife in a Milwaukee County medical examiner’s report.
Bell was unarmed when police shot him in the head in his driveway in November 2004. Robert Jambois, then Kenosha County district attorney, declined to charge the officers involved. A department investigation ruled the shooting justified.
Bell’s family, however, won a $1.75 million settlement in March after filing a lawsuit that accused the officers of excessive force and civil rights violations. Although Strausbaugh did not pull the trigger, he conducted the initial traffic stop of Bell, forced him to the ground and stunned him with a Taser, according to the lawsuit. Strausbaugh also was one of two officers restraining Bell when a third officer shot him in the head at close range, the suit says.
“Our family is sickened by this tragic event and is acutely aware of the pain his family feels,” Bell’s father, retired Air Force Lt. Colonel Michael M. Bell, said Monday.
In the years since the shooting, Michael M. Bell has waged a publicity campaign including a website and billboards calling for an independent commission to review all fatal police shootings in the state.
Just last week, state Rep. Peter Barca (D-Kenosha), majority caucus chairman, responded in a letter to the elder Bell. Barca has asked the nonpartisan state Legislative Council to research the law surrounding the issue of fatal police shootings, according to the letter, dated Oct. 26.
Strausbaugh’s suicide, the second in the department in the past six months, has been very difficult on his co-workers, Morrissey said.
“He served the department a little over 10 years and did an outstanding job,” Morrissey said.
Every 17 to 21 hours, a police officer in the United States commits suicide, according to Robert E. Douglas Jr., founder and executive director of the National POLICE Suicide Foundation. He estimated that 30% to 40% of officers suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.
It is not uncommon for stressful incidents on the job to lead to marital problems, he said. The officer generally does not want to talk about the incident and the spouse does, which leads to communication breakdowns, he said.
“The shooting of any human being and especially the killing of any human being is a tremendous emotional trauma,” Douglas said. “The trauma is devastating, and this family now is going to be devastated.”