'The judge gave us justice': 5 years after Wisconsin cop shot man in parked car, family celebrates legal victory

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MILWAUKEE — A Wisconsin judge on Wednesday announced he found probable cause to charge a police officer in the 2016 fatal shooting of a Black man who was sitting in a parked car.

Milwaukee County Judge Glenn Yamahiro's decision — more than five years after the shooting in Wauwatosa, a Milwaukee suburb — marks a victory for the family of Jay Anderson Jr. The family's attorney used a rare legal process to pursue charges against Joseph Mensah after the Milwaukee County District Attorney's Office ruled the shooting justified self-defense.

It will ultimately be up to a special prosecutor to charge Mensah.

Mensah was alone in his squad car on June 23, 2016, while patrolling Madison Park overnight when he discovered Anderson, 25, sleeping in his car at 3 a.m. When Mensah approached the vehicle, he told investigators that he saw a handgun on Anderson's passenger seat and that Anderson reached for the gun.

Mensah said he drew his weapon and ordered Anderson to raise his hands and not to reach for the weapon. Anderson raised his hands, but at least four times he started to lower his right arm while leaning toward the front passenger seat, where the gun was, according to the investigative report.

Dashcam video from Mensah's squad shows the officer shooting into Anderson's parked car. Anderson was shot five times in the head and once in his shoulder.

Yamahiro said Mensah created an "unreasonable and substantial risk of death" in the shooting.

"Based upon the totality of circumstances, the court does find probable cause that Officer Joseph Mensah operated a weapon, in a matter constituting criminal negligence, and in so doing, caused the death of Jay Anderson Jr.," Yamahiro said.

Next, Yamahiro is expected to appoint a special prosecutor on Sept. 28. That person will review the case and will determine whether they believe there's probable cause to charge Mensah with a crime.

Joseph Mensah is a former Wauwatosa police officer who resigned in November 2020. He fatally shot three people in five years while in the line of duty. Mensah was cleared by the Milwaukee County District Attorney's Office of any criminal wrongdoing in all three shootings.
Joseph Mensah is a former Wauwatosa police officer who resigned in November 2020. He fatally shot three people in five years while in the line of duty. Mensah was cleared by the Milwaukee County District Attorney's Office of any criminal wrongdoing in all three shootings.

Mensah has shot and killed three people in the line of duty during a five-year span while he was employed with the Wauwatosa Police Department. The Milwaukee County District Attorney's Office ruled all three shootings justified self-defense, including the most recent shooting of 17-year-old Alvin Cole in 2020.

Mensah is now a deputy with the Waukesha County Sheriff's Department.

After District Attorney John Chisholm decided not to file charges against Mensah in 2016, Anderson's family sought a federal review for a civil rights violation. In February 2017, the U.S. Attorney's Office for Eastern Wisconsin declined to prosecute Mensah.

Kimberley Motley, the attorney for the Anderson family, took advantage of a little-used provision in state law to ask the judge for a second look at the case.

Under Wisconsin law, if a district attorney "refuses or is unavailable to issue a complaint, a circuit judge may permit the filing of a complaint." Before the court can do that, the judge must find probable cause to believe that a person should be charged with an offense.

Motley had been trying to prove that the shooting was unreasonable throughout four hearings that were held from February to May. During the final hearing, Motley told Yamahiro she doesn't believe Anderson was ever a threat to Mensah during the incident.

Jay Anderson Sr. and supporters rejoice after Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Glenn H. Yamahiro announced on Wednesday that there is probable cause to charge Joseph Mensah, former Wauwatosa police officer, in the 2016 fatal shooting of Jay Anderson Jr.
Jay Anderson Sr. and supporters rejoice after Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Glenn H. Yamahiro announced on Wednesday that there is probable cause to charge Joseph Mensah, former Wauwatosa police officer, in the 2016 fatal shooting of Jay Anderson Jr.

After the hearing Wednesday, the Anderson family walked out of the courtroom in celebration of the decision and chanted his name. About 75 people were there in support of the family.

"I broke down. That broke me down. That's justice. The judge gave us justice," Anderson Sr. said about the moment he heard the decision in the courtroom.

Tracy Cole, the mother of Alvin Cole, said the decision was "justice for all three families," referring to the three people Mensah fatally shot.

"Now I can sleep better. Now I can sleep a lot better," Cole said.

Motley was said the decision was "a long time coming."

"It confirmed what we believed — I believed — since we took this case," Motley said.

During a news conference after the decision on Wednesday, newly hired Wauwatosa Police Chief James MacGillis said he met in private with the Anderson family to express his condolences for their loss. He said he's praying for their healing.

He also called the decision from Yamahiro "part of the legal process."

"Now is the time to process the judge's decision, and then move forward. Again, the legal process has played itself out, and it's going to continue to play itself out," he said. "My role is to lead this department, look at processes, look at how we function as an organization."

Reach reporter Evan Casey on Twitter at @ecaseymedia.

This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Joseph Mensah shooting: Wauwatosa officer may be charged with homicide