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'John Doe' Petition Reopens Wisconsin Death Probe

Refusing to accept prosecutors' failure a decade ago to prosecute the white men whose rough restraint of his teenaged Black son led to his death, Craig Stingley last year convinced a judge to assign a new district attorney to the case. That inquiry, a product of an obscure statute dating to Wisconsin's frontier days, will result in a scheduled announcement Friday of any charges in the 2012 death of 16-year-old Corey Stingley, ProPublica reports. The law, called a "John Doe" statute, states that if a district attorney refuses to issue a criminal complaint or is unavailable to do so, a private citizen can petition a judge to take up the matter. Such laws are used infrequently, legal experts said, and rarely successfully. Petitions have been filed by prisoners, by activists alleging animal cruelty in research experiments and by citizens claiming police misconduct. The efforts typically fail, ProPublica found in reviewing court dockets, news accounts and appellate rulings. In Milwaukee County, Wisconsin’s most populous, there were only 19 such cases in 2020, dockets show, including Stingley’s. None succeeded.


The incident occurred when Corey attempted to shoplift $12 worth of Smirnoff Ice and then fled the West Allis, Wis., convenience store, prompting three customers to pin the youth to the floor in a sitting position while choking him, according to witnesses. By the time they released their hold, Corey was immobile and foaming at the mouth. He never regained consciousness from his traumatic brain injury and died two weeks later. Police arrested Mario Laumann, the man seen holding Corey in an apparent chokehold, shortly after the incident in December 2012. But the local district attorney declined to prosecute him or the other two men, arguing they were unaware of the harm they were causing. When a second police review led to a reexamination of the case in 2017, another prosecutor sat on it for more than three years, until a judge demanded a decision. Again, there were no charges. After Stingley petitioned a court in late 2020, a judge assigned Ismael Ozanne of Dane County, the first Black DA in Wisconsin, to open the current investigation. Stingley and his ex-wife filed a wrongful death suit in 2015 against the three men and the convenience store, which led to a settlement. In the revived criminal inquiry, no one is alleging that the men set out to kill Corey. His father is asking the prosecutor to consider a charge of reckless homicide or even a lesser offense for using extreme force to detain his son. “He wasn’t trying to harm anyone. He was trying to leave that store,” said Craig Stingley, who thought his son made a youthful mistake. “I believe he was scared.”

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