A former Wauwatosa Police Department officer will not face charges for fatally shooting a man in 2016 while he was sleeping in his car. This counts as the third time the officer has been cleared of a fatal shooting in his short career.
The family of the deceased disagrees with the prosecution’s decision, saying the video that the ruling was based on should have been the central piece of evidence.
Last July, a Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Glenn Yamahiro stated Joseph Mensah negligently handled a dangerous weapon when he engaged Jay Anderson, 25, in June of 2016, and maintained there was probable cause to charge the ex-Wisconsin cop with homicide for the police-involved of the Wisconsin Black man.
However, at a hearing on Wednesday, June 1, prosecutors, after receiving feedback from a mock jury of legal experts, stated they did not have enough evidence to get a conviction and declined to file charges, International Business Times reports.
The prosecutors originally didn’t want to charge Mensah, who is Black, in the case, but the attorneys representing the family were able to force their hands, citing a provision in state law that gave them the right to petition a judge to review the case. NBC News states this statue is rarely used in the Badger State.
The judge then overruled the prosecutors’ decision because he believed, based on the evidence he reviewed, Mensah was mistaken about the course of events.
Mensah claims Anderson, who was found sleeping in his own vehicle in a Milwaukee suburb, was reaching for his weapon when Mensah approached him, prompting the cop to shoot him in self-defense.
Video shows a complicated narrative that is not as cut and dried as the defense or prosecution would have liked. The special prosecutors said the squad video, despite not having audio, showed the crucial period of 18 seconds before Mensah shot Anderson.
This video segment from the incident showed the deceased with his hands up. However, at some point, he seems to reach down toward the direction of a firearm but quickly raises his hands again.
A Milwaukee Police Department report stated the officer noticed Anderson had a handgun in the front passenger seat. Mensah pulled his weapon out and commanded Anderson to put his hands up. Anderson raised his hands, but “on at least four occasions Mr. Anderson started to lower his right arm while leaning toward the front passenger seat where the gun was located,” the report stated.
It continued, Anderson “lunged toward the gun with his right hand” and the officer fired five bullets into the man’s head and once in the right shoulder.
The state conceded Anderson’s action could have been enough for Mensah to think his life was in danger and justify his shooting in self-defense.
Helping them come to this decision was a mock jury of lawyers and judges not connected to the case.
Special prosecutor Scott Hansen said he “personally watched that video countless times.”
However, when talking about the mock jury, he said, “The overwhelming result of all of that is that people believed that the motion that Mr. Anderson made seconds before he was shot was enough to cause someone in Mensah’s position to fear that if he didn’t shoot first, he was going to be shot himself.”
In a press conference, special prosecutor Tim Gruenke said the evidence does not necessarily substantiate a crime, but neither vindicates the former officer’s actions, WPR reports.
“I don’t think anyone should feel good about this,” Gruenke said. “Police shouldn’t feel like this is the way you should do things or is the outcome we want.”
Anderson’s family disagrees believing the video should not have been the central piece of evidence, adding their loved one could have been reaching to pick up his phone or identification card, arguing the officer prematurely used lethal force.
The family lawyer, Kimberley Motley, filed a motion on Wednesday calling for the special prosecutors to withdraw.
However, Judge Yamahiro submitted he had accepted the prosecution’s findings and rejected Motley’s motion.
Yamahiro called the circumstances surrounding Anderson’s death a tragedy that didn’t have to happen, saying it was “a separate and completely distinct question from what is provable beyond a reasonable doubt.”
“I think it’s clear in the previous record that Officer Mensah did not follow his training here in many respects, and to that extent, there is certainly an argument to be made that he created the risk that led to the shooting of Mr. Anderson,” Yamahiro commented.
He also said the way the case was handled by the police was “well-intentioned” but “fatally flawed.”
In 2021, Yamahiro said Mensah should have operated with more care and awareness when he drew his weapon on Anderson. By doing so, he created an unreasonable risk of death. The judge believed the officer should have de-escalated the situation instead of jumping to use his weapon.
The judge also stated the deceased’s actions could have indicated he was intoxicated and not in full control of his facility, making it difficult for him to obey Mensah’s instructions cohesively.
This is not the first time Mensah has used lethal force while on duty. Over his five-year tenure with the force in Wauwatosa, two other people have died at his hands.
Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm declined to file charges against Mensah when he shot Antonio Gonzalez or Alvin Cole, a 17-year-old minor. Both shootings were determined to be in self defense.
In November 2020, after Anderson’s death, he retired from that department and was rehired as a deputy 15 miles away in Waukesha.
After the hearing, Hansen said he could see the community and the deceased’s family were upset, and the decision “wasn’t fair to them.”
“You can see the pain that the family has gone through,” the prosecutor said. “This wasn’t fair to them, they didn’t do anything to deserve this, and I’m only sorry that there’s nothing that we can do to help heal those wounds.”
Motley says her team plans to subpoena Mensah for a civil case in federal court will continue.
“If the truth is on his side, then come sit and talk to us under oath,” Motley declared. “Come sit and talk to not just us, sit and talk to a court reporter. Let’s put this on the record so that we can all move forward.”
Linda Anderson, the man’s mother, was discouraged by the decision, but stated, “We’re not finished.”
“I want Joseph Mensah in jail,” the grieved mother remarked. “So we’re going to continue to fight.”