There is enough probable cause to criminally charge a trigger-happy Wisconsin police officer with a history of killing suspects for fatally shooting a Black man in 2016, a judge ruled on Wednesday after revisiting the case at the urging of one of the victim’s family.
Milwaukee County Judge Glenn Yamahiro has recommended the appointment of a special prosecutor to handle the case against Waukesha County Police Officer Joseph Mensah for killing Jay Anderson Jr. under questionable circumstances. That means the arrest of Mensah, who is also Black, is imminent. He is likely to be charged with committing a crime of homicide by a dangerous weapon.
Mensah killed Anderson Jr., a 25-year-old who was found sleeping in his car in the city of Wauwatosa, a suburb of Milwaukee. Mensah, who at the time was working as an officer with the Wauwatosa Police Department, shot Anderson Jr. to death for allegedly reaching for a gun. Anderson is among three people of color who Mensah has killed since 2015.
Mensah has never faced discipline for his killings and was just last year cleared of wrongdoing in the shooting death of 17-year-old Alvin Cole in 2016, which came one year after he killed Antonio Gonzales.
Yamahiro revisited the case by exercising the so-called John Doe proceeding, described by the Associated Press as “a rarely used process” that, according to state law, can be invoked for dozens of reasons.
The Associated Press reported that Yamahiro based his ruling on the premise that “Mensah should have been aware that pulling his weapon on Anderson created an unreasonable risk of death.”
Mensah has maintained that Anderson was the aggressor, but Yamahiro found that Anderson’s actions were consistent with that of someone who was sleeping in his car and had been startled awake by Mensah’s orders at 3 a.m. Mensah said Anderson pretended to be asleep before he “lunged” at a gun, but Yamahiro said there was no evidence to support that claim.
Because of what Yamahiro described as an incestuous relationship between local law enforcement agencies and local district attorneys, the judge ruled that a special prosecutor should be appointed to eliminate any possible conflicts of interest in the pursuit of justice.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported in October that an independent investigator examined Mensah’s file after he shot and killed Anderson Jr., recommending in vain that the officer be fired from his post.
Yamahiro’s ruling could have implications for Mensah’s killings of Cole and Gonzales, whose families may choose to appeal decisions against charging the officer for the deaths of their respective loved ones based on Wednesday’s ruling. The lawyer representing Anderson’s family also represents the families of Cole and Gonzales.
Previously, Milwaukee County District Attorney John T. Chisholm declined to charge Mensah in all three fatal shootings and said they were all justified, including Cole, who was killed in February 2020. Chisholm wrote in a letter to inform Wauwatosa Police Department Chief Barry Weber that there was “sufficient evidence” Mensah’s deadly force against Cole was justified.
“I do not believe that the State could disprove self-defense or defense of others in this case and therefore could not meet the burden required to charge Officer Mensah. With this I conclude my criminal review of the matter,” Chisholm wrote in the letter, which was sent to Chief Weber on Oct. 7.
This is a developing story that will be updated.