For the past two weeks, people in Milwaukee, Wisconsin have held daily protests against police brutality and killings, including the local slaying of Joel Acevedo. Acevedo, a 25-year-old security guard described as having a big smile and an even bigger heart, was killed after an alleged fight with off-duty Milwaukee Police Officer Michael Mattioli.
“Justice for Joel,” cried friends, relatives and community members during a vigil held on Friday. It marked the 15th consecutive day of demonstrations. Acevedo’s parents began speaking about the attack publicly after nationwide Black Lives Matter protests erupted following the high-profile police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery.
“It’s a pain [that] unless you experience it you won’t know how it is,” Jose Acevedo, the late man’s father, reportedly said during the vigil. “My son… he is going to be well missed.”
The quarrel took place on the morning of April 19. According to a six-page criminal complaint, Mattoli had invited friends, including Acevedo—who aspired to be a cop— over to his house for a party despite city-sanctioned stay-at-home restrictions prohibiting gatherings. The next morning, Mattioli alleges he saw Acevedo attempting to steal from him. The officer claims that Acevedo punched another individual in the home—accusations that Acevedo’s family refutes—and that he restrained Acevedo by placing him in a “rear-naked chokehold,” a use of force that Mattioli later acknowledged was “not a trained technique” and one he knew could be fatal. Mattioli called 911 and remained on top of Acevedo, who begged to go home, until law enforcement arrived, nearly 10 minutes later.
While Mattioli alleged he “didn’t squeeze as hard as I could” and indicated he didn’t use deadly force, cops arrived at the scene to find Acevedo unconscious. He was rushed to a hospital. In interviews with investigators that same day, Mattioli was made aware that Acevedo was in critical condition and, according to reports, he responded with no remorse, saying, “Well [f*ck] him. He stole from me. I don’t give a [f*ck] what shape he is in.”
Acevedo died six days later.
Mattioli, who was suspended from the department with pay, has been charged with first-degree reckless homicide but is free on $50,000 bail. If convicted, Mattioli faces up to 40 years in prison and an additional 20 years on extended supervision.
For the Acevedo family, that isn’t enough. His relatives are calling for the immediate arrest and termination of Mattioli and demanding that bodycam footage worn by the officers who were present and the 911 phone call recording be released to the family and their attorney.
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett has also called on Police Chief Alfonso Morales to fire Mattioli, to which Morales responded he “no longer had the authority to render any discipline, including [the] discharge of Police Officer Mattioli” after the Fire and Police Commission took over the investigation.
As protesters across the country increasingly demand the defunding and abolition of police forces, the Acevedo family, which has helped organize peaceful protests around the city, have taken a different approach, calling for systemic changes that aim to prevent officers like Mattioli from ever being hired and would require mental health support for law enforcement.
“It is especially difficult for our family knowing that an officer was involved in taking his life,” Acevedo’s family said, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “This has been the hardest thing our family has ever had to go through. Losing Joel has left a void that can never be filled. We are not sure if we will ever get over this great loss.”