MILWAUKEE -- A large crowd gathered Monday evening, July 30 to remember fallen Milwaukee Police Officer Michael Michalski, who died after he was shot while checking on a wanted suspect near 28th and Wright on Wednesday, July 25. That's where the community vigil began on Monday evening at 6 p.m.
It was an emotional evening as those gathered focused on the man Officer Michalski was, and how he lived. Many said the 52-year-old officer who was a 17-year veteran of the department and a married father of three was truly an inspiration.
Milwaukee police officers on hand were greeted with hugs, appreciation and prayers for peace.
"He doesn't want us to be angry. He wants us to police the way he did. That's what we have to remember. He is the type of police officer the community is looking for -- strong, tough and concerned," said Milwaukee Police Chief Alfonso Morales.
"We need to talk about unity and supporting one another," said Tracey Dent, community activist, founder of Peace for Change Alliance and organizer of the vigil.
Many reflected on Officer Michalski's own faith to help guide them through these dark, difficult times.
"It is that God who joins us today as we grieve and mourn and weep, as Jesus wept. Our prayers to the family and all those who remain and mourn officer Michalski's loss," said Rev. Kevin Stewart, Episcopal Diocese of Milwaukee.
Michalski was remembered as a man who would feed the homeless, an officer who would pray each day before work and a member of the community who would share scripture with those he encountered on the street.
"I cried. I didn't understand it. It didn't make any sense. He was just doing his job," said Ruby Boggans.
Jonathan Copeland charged in Officer Michalski's death
The suspect in the officer-involved shooting, Jonathan Copeland Jr., now faces homicide charges in connection with the death of the officer, a 17-year MPD veteran, husband and father of three. He faces one count of first degree intentional homicide, use of a dangerous weapon, one count of attempted first degree intentional homicide, use of a dangerous weapon and one count of possession of a firearm by a felon.
A criminal complaint filed against Copeland says officers were in the area near 28th and Wright on July 25 because Copeland had an "open arrest warrant" for felony drug crimes, as well as a warrant for absconding from Department of Corrections supervision. Copeland was spotted going into a home in the area, and officers went to that location in an effort to arrest Copeland.
The complaint says the officers entered the home and split up to search for Copeland, after searching for him for more than 10 minutes on the lower floor.
Body camera video captured Officer Michalski climbing stairs in the home, and as he reached the top of the staircase, the complaint says the video shows a pile of clothing began moving, and the officer moved backwards. Soon, the video shows "gunshots ring out" and the camera went to black as the officer fell. Another officer's body camera captured "Michalski lying motionless on the stairs to the upper floor." The complaint says Officer Michalski was shot in the head.
Multiple .45 caliber casings were recovered from the upper landing where Copeland was eventually arrested.
The complaint says two other officers were outside and heard the gunfire from inside. One saw a window screen get pushed out of a window and Copeland was seen leaning out from inside. The complaint says Copeland pointed a gun at one of the officers and shot at him. An officer returned fire, and Copeland pulled his body back into the house. An officer then saw a gun (a .45 caliber "High Point" semi-automatic pistol) thrown from the window onto the lawn, and Copeland was heard yelling that his hands were up and not to shoot him. Copeland was arrested on the stairway landing.
It was determined that the door to the upper unit at 28th and Wright was locked, and the complaint indicates Copeland became trapped on the landing -- where he hid silently for 10 minutes and "ambushed and shot Officer Michalski" as he began to close in.
The complaint says Michalski immediately fell after the first gunshot and never moved again. Officers carried him out of the stairwell and he was taken to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
The medical examiner determined the cause of death to be a single gunshot wound to the head. His death was ruled a homicide.
The complaint says on the morning of July 25, Copeland sent a text to his wife, in which he appeared to threaten to shoot police if they were to come after him. This, after authorities say on July 23, Copeland's wife called police to report that he was threatening to shoot up her house because she refused to reimburse him for an expense he had incurred.
In the exchange were texts reading: "Police can't save you FYI. N I Will pop 1 of they (expletive) if u try to jam me up."
After his arrest, Copeland told officers "they got me for murder. I shot him," according to the complaint. While being transported to the hospital, the complaint says Copeland said "I will take it off your waist and put one in the back of your head too," a statement that was recorded by body cameras.
How you can help
Officer Michalski is the second MPD officer to lose his life in the line of duty this summer. Officer Charles Irvine died on June 7 following a crash near 76th and Silver Spring that happened during a pursuit. Ladell Harrison has pleaded not guilty to multiple charges filed in connection to Officer Irvine's death.
In the wake of these tragic incidents, community members are seeking unity between law enforcement and residents in Milwaukee. Dent, who organized Monday evening's vigil, spoke out ahead of it -- talking about how Officer Michalski's death has impacted the community.
"I hugged a couple of officers and they broke down and cried. It's heartbreaking," said Dent.
Dent said since the shooting, he's tried his best to support those affected by the tragedy.
"Let them know they are not alone. We share in their pain, because it's really devastating," said Dent.
The Milwaukee Police Department has created a GoFundMe page for Officer Michalski’s family.
Anyone wishing to make a donation may do so at any Tri City National Bank, or you can send any donations to the address below:
Michael J. Michalski Memorial Fund
C/O Tri City National Bank
7525 W. Oklahoma Ave.
Milwaukee, WI 53219
Officer Michalski's funeral is set for Wednesday, Aug. 1. The funeral will be held at Oak Creek Assembly of God (7311 S. 13th St., Oak Creek). on Wednesday, Aug. 1. There will be a visitation from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. The memorial service will commence at 3 p.m.