After three fatal shootings in Wauwatosa, Joseph Mensah hired as a Waukesha County sheriff’s deputy

By: - January 26, 2021 1:54 pm
Officer Joseph Mensah (Photo | Wauwatosa PD)

Officer Joseph Mensah (Photo | Wauwatosa PD)

Joseph Mensah, the officer who became the focus of protests in Wauwatosa after three fatal shootings and later resigned, has been hired by the Waukesha County Sheriff’s Department and sworn in as a deputy.

As a Wauwatosa police officer, Mensah shot and killed three people while on duty over a five-year period. Now, Mensah will be working for a department that uses neither body cameras, nor squad car dash cameras.

“It’s concerning that Waukesha does not have body cameras or dash cameras, which makes his presence there potentially even more sinister without having those devices to track him,” says Kimberley Motley, a lawyer who spearheaded the push to have Mensah removed from the Wauwatosa Police Department. “And he’s, frankly, part of the reason why the City of Wauwatosa is getting body cameras.”

Mensah’s new department has been accused of racial profiling practices, and had a quiet partnership with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in 2019. Waukesha County Sheriff Eric Severson’s decision to hire Mensah is also proving controversial with mixed reactions on social media.

The role of the police in our society has been under a microscope since the killing of George Floyd by the Minneapolis Police Department in May, 2020. Local Policing is an ongoing series analyzing the culture, tactics and actions of departments big and small across Wisconsin. If you have a story to share about your local police, reach out to reporters Isiah Holmes and Henry Redman at [email protected] and [email protected].

State Sen. Julian Bradley (R-Franklin) responded to the news on Twitter, writing “Congratulations, Deputy Sheriff Mensah!”

But Black Leaders Organizing for Communities (BLOC) Milwaukee responded to the hiring with this tweet: “This is beyond a slap in the face. Our lives clearly are a joke to some.”

Mensah was sworn in on Monday. Severson released the following statement Tuesday:

“I have extended an employment offer to Mr. Joseph Mensah, which he accepted, for the position of Deputy Sheriff. Mr. Mensah progressed through an extensive, thorough, and exhaustive hiring process.

While some have expressed concerns about Mr. Mensah’s past uses of force, I assembled a team who exhaustively reviewed Mr. Mensah’s previous work history. I have concluded along with Milwaukee DA, Wauwatosa PD, Milwaukee PD, as well as an independent investigation conducted by Wauwatosa Police and Fire commission that Mr. Mensah’s use of force was consistent with the Federal and State laws, Wisconsin training, and uniformly applied policy. This is consistent with all other investigations.

Mr. Mensah will enter a supervised field training program where he will be afforded the same opportunities as every other Deputy working for the Waukesha County Sheriff’s Office.”

Severson’s department has not responded to requests for comment from Wisconsin Examiner.

Mensah’s first fatal shooting occurred shortly after he began working at the Wauwatosa Police Department. According to his employee file, Mensah was still in his probationary period when he killed 29-year-old Antonio Gonzalez. Mensah and another officer arrived at the home where Gonzalez was staying in response to a call that he was being disorderly. The officers saw Gonzalez holding one of the swords he collected as a hobby, and fired when he refused to drop it.

Less than a year later, Mensah killed 25-year-old Jay Anderson Jr., who was sleeping in his car in a local park. Anderson had been celebrating his birthday and, according to his family, decided to sleep off his intoxication rather than drive home. Mensah arrived in the park around 3 a.m. and, after having a brief conversation with Anderson, claimed he saw a weapon resting in the passenger seat.

Less than 30 seconds of mute dash footage was captured that night, which showed Anderson still in the car with his hands up. He lowered his arms multiple times, which his family believes demonstrates he was losing consciousness. Mensah, however, said Anderson was reaching for a weapon. After Anderson was killed, other officers arrived for backup and removed the gun from the car without taking pictures, and before outside investigators arrived to take over the scene per state law. WPD later identified serious training concerns related to the shooting and subsequent actions by Mensah’s fellow WPD officers.

Four years later, in February 2020, Mensah killed 17-year-old Alvin Cole. The boy’s friends had been involved in an altercation at Mayfair Mall and were apprehended by police as they fled the property. Mensah was the last officer on the scene and the only one to fire on Cole, who was on his hands and knees by that time. Wauwatosa Police Department initially claimed that Cole fired on officers, but that account has since been called into question. Although Mensah’s actions were ruled as “privileged” by Milwaukee District Attorney John Chisholm, he was cleared of any criminal wrongs.

The same day Mensah was cleared of Cole’s shooting, an independent investigation found he had violated multiple department policies and there were grounds for firing him. It also indicated that Mensah’s continued employment could result in future violence. Mensah was suspended by the city and fire commission but later allowed to resign. He took with him a lucrative severance agreement, and $78,000 more in GoFundMe donations.


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Isiah Holmes
Isiah Holmes

Isiah Holmes is a journalist and videographer, and a lifelong resident of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His writing has been featured in Urban Milwaukee, Isthmus, Milwaukee Stories, Milwaukee Neighborhood News Services, Pontiac Tribune, the Progressive Magazine, Al Jazeera, and other outlets.