Jacque Tiegs

In investigating police shootings, Wisconsin changed the game - or did it?

Since the state'€™s new law governing deadly force investigations, no police officer has been found at fault

In April, Wisconsin became the first state to require that fatal shootings by police be investigated by at least two investigators outside of the agency that employs the officer in question.

In 129 years, no police officer in the state had been found by a review panel to be at fault for killing anyone*, and advocates who fought for the law believed more officers would be brought to justice if they weren’t judged by their own.

Since it was enacted, Wisconsin police have shot and killed six people. How is the new law playing out?

Of those six shootings, four of the investigations have been completed, and in keeping with Wisconsin tradition, all the officers were cleared of wrongdoing. But only one of the investigations – the unfinished probe into the shooting of Dontre Hamilton – has sparked any controversy.

The law is only five months old and the sample size here is extremely small, but one trend has become very clear: In five of the six cases, the victim sufferred a mental illness.

To better understand the impact of the law, we’ve outlined the six victims, the circumstances of their deaths and the statuses of the investigations. 

1. Dontre Hamilton

Courtesy of the Hamilton family

In April, Dontre Hamilton, 31, was sleeping in downtown Milwaukee's Red Arrow Park when an officer woke and searched him. An argument ensued, and as the police report details, the officer took out his baton and began striking Hamilton, who grabbed and took it. The officer later said Hamilton struck him repeatedly with the baton, though the family says there is no proof this happened. The officer then unloaded his weapon – 14 bullets in all, one ricocheting and hitting Hamilton twice.

According to his family, Hamilton had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia last year, but there is no indication yet that it played any role in the shooting.

The Wisconsin Department of Justice – the outside investigator – says it is handling the investigation. But the family’s lawyer has said the Milwaukee Police Department, which employs the officer in question, has taken the lead in interviewing many of the key eyewitnesses. The investigation is now complete and the results have been submitted to the Milwaukee County District Attorney, who said he’ll be hiring outside experts to evaluate the officer’s use of force before deciding whether to press criminal charges. But as it’s now three months since the shooting, the family and other concerned residents have criticized the district attorney’s office for not acting in an "expeditious manner" as required by the new law.

2. Dean Caccamo

Police officers at the scene of the crime.

On May 1, deputies from the Dane County Sheriff’s Office responded to a call about two assaults in the town of Primrose. When the deputies arrived, they were confronted by Dean Caccamo, 50, a diagnosed schizophrenic who was well-known to police. According to later statements by officers, Caccamo, who was armed with a knife, used pepper spray on the deputies and attempted to wrestle a shotgun with non-lethal bean bag bullets away from one of them. In the ensuing struggle, Caccomo was shot once and also hit with a stun gun, and he injured two of the deputies with his knife. Caccamo later died due to injuries from the one gunshot.

According to the sheriff’s office, their office helped with the investigation into the shooting, which was led by police departments in the cities of Madison and Sun Prairie, with assistance from the city of Fitchburg and the University of Wisconsin-Madison Police Department. On May 27, the Dane County District Attorney cleared the officers of criminal liability, determining that Caccamo represented a deadly threat.

3. Londrell Johnson

Dane County Sheriff's Office

A day after the shooting of Dean Caccomo, two Madison police officers responded to calls of multiple stabbings. According to police reports, when Officer Carlin Becker and Sgt. Dave McClurg arrived, 33-year-old Londrell Johnson advanced toward them with a knife, ignoring verbal commands to drop it. The officers shot him and he died later at a hospital. The two neighbors who Johnson stabbed died from their wounds. Johnson had wrestled with schizophrenia for years, according to his family.

The investigation into the Londrell shooting was led by the Wisconsin Department of Justice. In June, the Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne cleared the officers of criminal liability, saying they were “compelled to use deadly force when faced with an advancing suspect wielding a knife and not responding to commands.”

4. Charles Jameson

Portage County Sheriff's Department

On May 17, a masked man broke into the home of Portage County Sheriff’s Deputy Tony Gischia and spread gasoline inside, according to police. The off-duty deputy returned and confronted the man. The police report said that the two men scuffled and that Gischia shot and killed the intruder. The masked man was identified as Charles Jameson, 30, who was known to Gischia. Neighbors told the local CBS affiliate that Jameson was the ex-boyfriend of Gischia’s current girlfriend.

The investigation into the shooting was turned over to the Wisconsin DOJ’s Division of Criminal Investigation and is ongoing.

5. Ashley DiPiazza

Facebook/Ashley DiPiazza

Madison police officers, Justin Bailey and Gary Pihlaja, responded to a domestic disturbance report on May 18, and found 26-year-old Ashley DiPiazza holding a gun to her head, according to officer statments. According to the police, she walked toward them, ignoring commands to drop the gun, and the officers shot and killed her.

The investigation was led by the Wisconsin DOJ’s Division of Criminal Investigation, according to press statements from Madison police Chief Mike Koval. Ozanne, the Dane County district attorney, cleared the officers of any wrongdoing, saying they were “compelled to use deadly force when faced with a suspect armed with a firearm not responding to commands.”

6. Rajko Utvic

Racine County Sheriff's Office

Rejko Utivic had planned to die on July 6, and he allegedly took 100 Ibuprofen pills. That’s what he told the cops when he dialed 911. When Racine police officers arrived on the scene, they say they found him covered in a blanket, holding a knife and bleeding from several “significant” wounds. They said that Utvic came at them with a raised knife. They deployed tasers on Utvic, which “had little or no effect,” and when he refused to drop the weapon, one of the officers shot and killed him. One of the officers was aware that Utvic had a history of mental illness, according to the police report.

The outside agency that investigated the shooting was the Racine County Sheriff’s Office. A week later, the Racine County District Attorney Rich Chiapete said the officer’s actions were “legal, justified and necessary given all the circumstances.” The results of the investigation, which were released at the end of July, stated that the use of lethal force was “to stop the escalating threat.”

Clarification added Sept. 23: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that no officer had been found at fault for killing someone. It should have included that no officer had been faulted by a review board.

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