Anderson John Doe decision sends shockwaves through Milwaukee, Wauwatosa

Opening the door to charging former Tosa officer carries implications for other police shootings

By: - July 29, 2021 6:30 am
Jay Anderson Sr. (left) and Linda Anderson (right), the parents of Jay Anderson Jr. (Photo | Isiah Holmes)

Jay Anderson Sr. (left) and Linda Anderson (right), the parents of Jay Anderson Jr. (Photo | Isiah Holmes)

Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Glenn Yamahiro has found probable cause to charge former Wauwatosa police officer Joseph Mensah in the death of Jay Anderson Jr. The decision comes after weeks of testimony in which Yamahiro directly questioned witnesses  in a John Doe hearings on the 2016 shooting. As a result of Yamahiro’s decision, which reverses a decision by prosecutors not to charge Mensah, a special prosecutor will be appointed to explore whether Mensah should be charged with a crime.

A large crowd gathered at the Milwaukee County Justice Complex to await the decision on Wednesday morning. As Yamahiro went through the facts of the case and announced his decision, weeping could be heard from the crowd. Besides many community members, activists, and organizers, Anderson’s family and the families of other people killed by Mensah were also in attendance. Anderson, 25, was the second of three people killed by Mensah over a five year period. Less than a year before the shooting, the young officer killed 29-year-old Antonio Gonzales. Then, four years after killing Anderson, Mensah fatally shot 17-year-old Alvin Cole in February 2020.

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While Mensah’s first two shootings of Gonzales and Anderson were ruled justified, Cole’s shooting was described as “privileged,” with the word “justified” absent from a letter by District Attorney John Chisholm released in early October, 2020. In the past the Wauwatosa Police Department (WPD) and Mensah himself emphasized that all three incidents involved people who were armed. Anderson’s case, however, presented a multitude of problematic issues outlined by Yamahiro.

These included the fact that Wauwatosa officers removed the gun Mensah said was in Anderson’s car without taking pictures, and before an outside agency arrived to take over the scene as required by state law. In Wisconsin, police departments cannot investigate their own shootings. Nevertheless, WPD detectives canvassed the area for witnesses days after the shooting and collected various pieces of evidence.

Meanwhile, Mensah was moved to administrative duty in WPD’s detective bureau during 2016 as he awaited Chisholm’s decision. Yamahiro also highlighted questions surrounding other ways the scene was apparently modified before outside investigators arrived. Testimony from the Milwaukee medical examiner’s office also contradicted the narrative that Anderson lunged for a gun.

Ultimately the judge noted that the court’s investigation “raises serious concerns regarding the adequacy of the current statutory framework for investigating officer-involved deaths.” Yamahiro added, “If the goal is to maximize objectivity and minimize bias, it will require a legislative alternative to local law enforcement agencies investigating each other in officer-involved deaths. The record in this investigation is replete both with things that were done that should not have been done as well as other things that should have been done, but were not done.”

There’s been many people that have been supporting these families that have received death threats, that have been targeted, that have been surveilled, that have been ticketed, that have been put on a ridiculous protester list. Which is like McCarthyism in Wauwatosa

– Attorney Kimberley Motley

Due to the close networks among local law enforcement agencies, Yamahiro called it “unreasonable to ask them to turn around and investigate each other in matters as serious as these, and for them to suddenly set those relationships aside.” The judge concluded that, “the issue here is structural and is not based upon the personalities occupying positions at any given moment.”

Officer Joseph Mensah (Photo | Wauwatosa PD)
Officer Joseph Mensah (Photo | Wauwatosa PD)

The decision drew an immediate reaction throughout the city and state. Attorney Kimberley Motley, who represents the families of the people Mensah shot called the decision a first step. Motley has submitted a civil rights complaint regarding the Gonzales case and is continuing to push lawsuits related to the Wauwatosa protests and Cole case. “The legal fight has not stopped for all these families,” said Motley.

“There’s been many people that have been supporting these families that have received death threats, that have been targeted, that have been surveilled, that have been ticketed, that have been put on a ridiculous protester list. Which is like McCarthyism in Wauwatosa, which they refuse to do anything about,” said Motley, who is on the list of protesters kept by police, alongside Rep. David Bowen (D-Milwaukee), other elected officials, activists and one journalist. “We’re going to make sure that every legal fight is fought,” she continued. “Unless they really want to talk at the table and figure out how we can move on as a community.”

For Anderson’s family, the decision was a long time coming. “I’ve been waiting for the last five years, I’ve never given up on baby Jay,” said Starkeshia Delarosa, Anderson’s fiance and mother of his daughter. Anderson’s parents were also in attendance, as well as the families of Gonzales and Cole. Bowen called the decision “groundbreaking,” stating that, “this decision also highlights the urgent need for continued and meaningful criminal justice and police reform that has been obstructed.”

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Lawyer Kimberley Motley speaks to press outside Wauwatosa City Hall after the meeting was over. (Photo by Isiah Holmes)
Lawyer Kimberley Motley speaks to press outside Wauwatosa City Hall after the meeting was over. (Photo | Isiah Holmes)

Tomas Clasen, advocacy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin echoed that sentiment. “Today is a small move in the right direction,” said Clasen, “But true justice would be Anderson never having been killed in the first place. Jay deserved better and should be alive today.”

In the coming weeks, a special prosecutor will be appointed to explore the charges of homicide by negligent use of a dangerous weapon against Mensah. Currently, Mensah is employed as a Waukesha County sheriff’s deputy. Mensah got the job months after protests last year resulted in his suspension with pay. He ultimately resigned from WPD with tens of thousands of dollars in GoFundMe donations and city benefits. Former Wauwatosa Police Chief Barry Weber recommended Mensah for the job with Waukesha County.

Weber’s successor, WPD’s new chief James MacGillis, expressed deep sympathies for Anderson’s family. MacGillis noted during a press conference outside police department headquarters that he’s connected with the Anderson family privately. “I pray for their healing,” said MacGillis, expressing a level of sympathy a far cry from statements made by Weber. “Fair and impartial policing is our highest priority,” said MacGillis, “while recognizing the human beings that are affected by our public safety efforts.” MacGillis said the department will continue to work to repair community trust following Anderson’s killing and other events that have caused division and distrust in Wauwatosa.

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Isiah Holmes
Isiah Holmes

Isiah Holmes is a journalist and videographer, and a lifelong resident of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Holmes' video work dates back to his high school days at Wauwatosa East High, when he made a documentary about the local police department. Since then, his writing has been featured in Urban Milwaukee, Isthmus, Milwaukee Stories, Milwaukee Neighborhood News Services, Pontiac Tribune, and other outlets.

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