Photo: Protesters stand in front of a mural to Joel Acevedo, who was killed by an off-duty police officer in Milwaukee. Liberation photo
Several major protests have occurred in Milwaukee recently demanding justice for Joel Acevedo, who was killed by Michael Mattioli, an off-duty Milwaukee police officer, last spring. Mattioli, who has since resigned from the Milwaukee Police Department, has pled not guilty in the chokehold death of Acevedo.
On March 5, several dozen activists and community members gathered at Kosciuszko Park, going door-to-door in the neighborhood where Acevedo was killed, to inform the public about the upcoming trial. “Unfortunately, we have to be out here for a modern-day lynching,” said ReBecca Burrell of the Revolution Ready Podcast. “And unfortunately somebody who was loved by our community died at the hands of crooked cops, at the hands of corruption, at the hands of a cover-up. We won’t take this anymore, we will stand up for justice. We won’t be muzzled, we won’t be quiet.”
Community activists like Burrell have continually underscored that Acevedo was not a violent threat to Mattioli and that the accusations of petty theft are likely fabricated in order to protect the killers.
Three days later, more than 100 people gathered at the Milwaukee County Public Safety Building, where a hearing was being held to decide where the trial would be located. Mattioli’s legal team submitted a request for a change of venue, arguing that Mattioli could not receive a fair trial in Milwaukee because of the “anti-police propaganda” being disseminated by the aforementioned activists.
“We have been killed with our hands up, we have been killed in our beds, we have been killed in the streets playing with toy guns, you name it. There is no justice in this system, but we as the people have to understand that we have the power in our hands. We are the justice, we are the rebels,” said Liz Brown, who spoke at the rally, “One brick at a time, we will break down this system that we know doesn’t serve us.”
Protesters rallied for more than two hours outside the Public Safety Building before marching several miles to the Southside where a mural to Acevedo was painted. “The rally and march were very powerful and uplifting because we were able to bring awareness to what happened to Joel Acevedo on a larger scale. Many days and weeks before this demonstration, the people have been working hard in educating the public about what happened to him,” said Christiaan Cocroft of the Party for Socialism and Liberation, Milwaukee. “The killer cop who murdered him wants the trial moved because of the pressure we have been putting on him, and his accomplices, who were involved in the murder but remain uncharged. We’re obviously not going to let him get his way by letting the court move his trial so we’re going to continue to hold demonstrations to make sure Joel and his family receive justice.”
Cop’s illegal party ends in death
On April 18, 2020, while in the midst of a statewide “Safer-at-home” order, Mattioli hosted an illegal party at his Milwaukee home. The party was attended by three of his friends: Christopher Peters, Milwaukee Parole Officer Andrew Janowski and Joel Acevedo. What started out as a night of drinks around the fire ended with the death of the 25-year-old Joel Acevedo at the hands of MPD officer Michael Mattioli.
A public statement released by the Acevedo family said: “Joel was a young man full of life whose laugh was contagious. Joel had a smile that would light up a room and a positive energy that would attract others to him. He always saw the best in people and loved everyone with his whole heart. He was funny and witty and loved by all.”
An altercation occured between Mattioli and Acevedo. According to the complaint, when officers arrived at the scene, body camera footage showed Mattioli straddling Acevedo inside the home on the kitchen floor. Acevedo was on his stomach and Janowski lay atop his legs. Mattioli appeared to have Acevedo in a rear naked chokehold. There was no visible struggle at the time of arrival and Acevedo did not appear to be moving or speaking. When Mattioli released Acevedo he did not appear to be breathing or have a pulse. Chest compressions were initiated and paramedics were called..
Acevedo would later be pronounced dead due to the injuries sustained from the altercation. His death was ruled a homicide as a result of anoxic encephalopathy due to traumatic asphyxia (brain injury due to traumatic strangulation). Mattioli, who was charged with First Degree Reckless Homicide on May 13, would eventually resign from his position at MPD only a few hours after entering in a not-guilty plea. He would go on to sue to prevent the release of body camera footage recorded by the responding officers.
One of the continuing points of contention in the case is the way Milwaukee DA John Chisholm has continually protected Peters and Janowski as “witnesses” despite their direct involvement in Joel’s death. “We need to get these people charged. They played a big role in killing my son,” said Jose Acevedo, Acevedo’s father, in a public statement made by the Acevedo family in front of the former office of ex-Parole Officer Andrew Janowski.
“They’re party to a crime. They’re murderers, they should be charged,” said Maribel Acevedo, Acevedo’s mother. “The threat that he had was only a cry to go home. He wanted to go home and they held him captive, they did not let him go. That is a crime they all committed.”
Janowski has since left his position as a Parole Officer for Milwaukee County but both he and Peters remain uncharged for their roles in Acevedo’s death.
The story of Joel Acevedo perfectly encapsulates so many of the systemic problems that plague the modern American police force: the systemic role the state plays in protecting police officers as demonstrated by John Chisholm’s local history of protecting killer cops; the local media downplaying of the accomplices involvement in the crime; and the regular disinformation propagated toward many of the protest groups involved in uplifting the family’s struggle such as The People’s Revolution Milwaukee; the Party for Socialism and Liberation, Milwaukee; the Milwaukee Alliance Against Racism and Political Repression; and many other organizations.
“We need to politically educate the people on why the police need to be defunded and abolished here in Milwaukee and all across this country!” said Cocroft. The people of Milwaukee are demanding Justice for Joel Acevedo and the jailing of all killer cops, nothing less!