Update: the City of Wauwatosa has now released the resignation agreement with Joseph Mensah. View the agreement here: City - Mensah Agreement.11-18-20
Joseph Mensah, the Wauwatosa Police Department (WPD) officer who’s been involved in three fatal shootings over the last five years, is resigning from the department. Mensah was at the center of protests in the suburban city over the summer and fall. His last shooting, which resulted in the death of 17-year-old Alvin Cole in February, has been a driving factor behind the movement calling for reforms to WPD.
“Joseph Mensah’s resignation is long overdue,” Kimberley Motley, the lawyer representing the families of the three slain people, told Wisconsin Examiner. “While we welcome the news, it is tragic that the Wauwatosa Police Department under Chief [Barry] Weber’s leadership has failed to address his shortcomings for years.”
Mensah’s first shooting occurred in 2015 while he was still in his probationary period as a WPD officer. During this phase of employment, mistakes made by fledgling officers could cost them their careers. Mensah responded to a call involving a man walking around his house and yard with a sword in the Ravenswood neighborhood of Wauwatosa. When Mensah and his partner arrived, 28-year-old Antonio Gonzalez was still handling one of the swords he collected as a hobby. When he didn’t follow the officer’s orders to drop the sword both Mensah and his partner fired on Gonzalez, killing him. No video has ever been released depicting the Gonzalez shooting.
Less than a year later, in the summer of 2016, Mensah shot 25-year-old Jay Anderson Jr. Mensah approached Anderson’s car, which was parked in a public park’s lot at 3 a.m. Anderson’s family says he had pulled over to sleep off his intoxication rather than drive home drunk, after celebrating his birthday. Mensah claims Anderson repeatedly reached for a gun, causing the lone patrol officer to fear for his safety. Mensah fired several shots into Anderson’s head and shoulder.
Less than 30 seconds of mute dash footage captured Mensah’s interaction with Anderson. The gun Mensah claims Anderson was reaching for does not appear in the dash footage. WPD officers who responded as back up after the shooting occurred removed the gun from the car without taking pictures for evidence, and before an outside investigating agency arrived to take over the scene. In Wisconsin, police departments can not investigate their own shootings and must rely on an outside agency.
In Mensah’s most recent shooting, Alvin Cole was shot after fleeing the scene of a confrontation between his friends and another person at Mayfair Mall. Mensah was the last officer to arrive at the scene, and the only one to fire his weapon. For months, WPD stated that Cole threatened Mensah and other officers with a gun which was recovered after the boy was killed. However, a summary of the shooting released by the office of District Attorney John Chisholm notes that Mensah heard a shot, but didn’t see a muzzle flash nor did he know if the shot was fired by police or suspects. Cole was shot in the back four times. Motley asserts that Cole was on his hands and knees, had discarded the gun he had, and was surrendering when Mensah fired.
While Gonzalez and Anderson were ruled as justified uses of force, Chisholm noted that Mensah’s shooting of Cole was “privileged.” However, as Motley points out, Chisholm did not call the shooting of Cole “justified.”
Mensah’s firing comes weeks after a report compiled by an independent investigator recommended that the officer be fired. The report found that Mensah violated department policies when he gave interviews to news media without the department’s permission. It also found that if Mensah remained on the force, there was a high likelihood that there would be a fourth shooting.
As part of Mensah’s resignation, the officer has signed a separation agreement with the City of Wauwatosa, the details of which have not been made available to the public. The young officer has also amassed tens of thousands of dollars through a Go Fund Me campaign, allegedly to pursue legal actions against those Mensah says have attacked his character. “We call on the City of Wauwatosa to immediately fully disclose the terms of its agreement with Joseph Mensah to the public,” Motley said in a statement.
State Rep. David Bowen has closely followed the case, joined protesters and the families and cited the result as proof of the power of peaceful protest.
“First things first – I am glad that Joseph Mensah will no longer keep his Wauwatosa Police Department job and badge,” said Bowen in a statement. “This separation was long overdue, and the people of Wauwatosa and the greater Milwaukee area are safer now, knowing that a walking liability like Joseph Mensah is no longer patrolling the streets. I want to sincerely thank the resilient families of Alvin Cole, Jay Anderson, Jr., and Antonio Gonzales, as well as the dedicated protesters who insisted that Black and brown lives matter, kept up the pressure on the City of Wauwatosa, and made it absolutely clear that Mensah had to go. This resignation is proof of the power of peaceful protest and the power of the people.”