Wauwatosa Police Officer Joseph Mensah has been cleared in the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Alvin Cole earlier this year, Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm announced Wednesday afternoon.
Mensah fatally shot Cole outside a suburban Milwaukee mall in February and the district attorney said he will not be charged in Cole’s death. Chisholm said Mensah had a reasonable belief that deadly force was necessary.
“In this case, there is sufficient evidence that Officer Mensah had an actual subjective belief that deadly force was necessary and that belief was objectively reasonable. I do not believe that the State could disprove self-defense or defense of others in this case and therefore could not meet the burden required to charge Officer Mensah,” Chisholm wrote in his ruling.
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During the incident, authorities said that Cole ran from the police and fired first before he was shot. Cole’s family disputes that he fired the gun.
Cole’s family met with Chisholm privately before the decision was announced publicly outside the Milwaukee County Safety Building.
While no charges were filed, Chisholm didn’t say the shooting was justified. Chisholm said that although Mensah has been cleared in three fatal shootings, his involvement in so many is concerning.
Attorney Kimberley Motley, who is representing the Cole family, pointed to the independent investigation, which found Cole didn’t shoot at Mensah. The report also recommended Mensah be fired.
“We are not done fighting,” Motley said. “We are still going to fight. We are still going to fight for a conviction of Officer Joseph Mensah.”
Before the decision was announced, about 100 people gathered outside the building and chanted “Say his name. Alvin Cole” and “Black Lives Matter.”
Both Cole and Mensah are Black.
Cole was the third person killed by Mensah in five years while he was on duty. Chisholm previously cleared Mensah in the shooting deaths of Antonio Gonzalez and Jay Anderson Jr, ruling both as justified self-defense.
Protesters March Through Wauwatosa
After the Wednesday evening announcement, a group of protesters marched from the Milwaukee County Safety Building to Wauwatosa.
Protesters spent hours protesting peacefully in Milwaukee and Wauwatosa. The suburb took precautions, including asking for assistance from the Wisconsin National Guard.
The crowds gathered an hour after the citywide 7 p.m. curfew had gone into effect.
As protesters headed west on North Avenue, they encountered a line of law enforcement. Protesters were seen walking arm and arm and singing “We Ready For Change” and chanting, “Alvin Cole.”
About 100 protesters confronted police officers wearing tactical gear and carrying shields.
Police and Wisconsin National Guard members told the crowds to disperse. The protesters walked peacefully past the barricades and officers. They were continuing to walk west with law enforcement following them.
Some protesters clashed with police who used tear gas to scatter the group. Windows were smashed at several businesses on the city’s north side.
Afterward, residents cleaned up debris from overnight damage to businesses. Neighbors wearing masks to protect against the coronavirus used brooms to sweep up broken glass and picked up debris after the curfew expired.
Cole Was Shot, Killed Following Incident In February
Cole was killed by Mensah in February following an altercation inside Mayfair Mall. A mall employee told police he saw a fight between a group of people in front of the Sephora makeup store. Security responded and escorted the group from the mall and then called police.
Wauwatosa police say Cole fired a gun at them in the mall parking lot. The gun allegedly used was a 9-mm semiautomatic handgun, and it was recovered at the scene. Police have also said the gun Cole used was stolen and had more bullets on him.
Motley said that isn’t true.
Tionna Williams, who was Cole’s girlfriend, said the months since Cole’s death have been hard, both for herself and Cole’s family.
Whiel stood outside the Milwaukee County Safety Building, where the announcement was to be made, and said Cole was someone who was sweet and motivated, “who had a good heart and was very caring.”
She said Mensah had no right to shoot Cole, and she hoped he would be charged.
“It’s just still shocking to me how this cop killed someone that we all loved. And he’s still out on the loose,” she said.
Mensah was allowed to continue working at the Wauwatosa Police Department after each fatal shooting. Motley, who represents all the families killed by Mensah, has called for him to be fired.
In July, the Wauwatosa Police and Fire Commission voted unanimously to suspend Mensah for breaking the Police Department’s rules or protocol in the Anderson case.
Mensah continues to be paid while he’s suspended. His base salary is $79,889, according to the city. Mensah’s family also started a GoFundMe account to pay his legal costs. They raised $78,569.
Investigator: Risk Of Fourth Shooting Is ‘Too Great’
An independent investigator appointed by the Wauwatosa Police and Fire Commission at the same time Mensah was suspended is recommending the officer be fired.
Former U.S. Attorney Steven Biskupic looked into the most recent shooting. Biskupic released a report Wednesday before the announcement by Chisholm, concluding Mensah should be fired because the risk of a fourth shooting is too great. The report also found Mensah used improper force in the Anderson shooting.
“I find that authorizing Officer Mensah to continue the performance of his full police duties, including the concurrent authorization for the potential use of deadly force, for a fourth time, creates an extraordinary, unwarranted and unnecessary risk to the Wauwatosa Police Department, and the City of Wauwatosa,” Biskupic’s report states.
“I further find that termination would serve the best interests of the Wauwatosa Police Department and the City of Wauwatosa,” it later states.
Wauwatosa Preparing For Protests
After being asked by local officials, Gov. Tony Evers authorized Wisconsin National Guard troops to support local law enforcement in Wauwatosa in advance of the Mensah charging decision.
For operational security reasons, the Wisconsin National Guard will not confirm specific troop numbers. In addition to supporting law enforcement, the Guard has been called in to “preserve public safety, protect critical infrastructure, and cultural institutions necessary for the well-being of the community, and to provide support to first responders such as the Wauwatosa Fire Department,” according to a press release from Evers’ office.
The city of Wauwatosa and area businesses were also preparing for protests Wednesday.
Wauwatosa City Hall is closing before the announcement and the Wauwatosa School District, which has been a hybrid of online and in-person school, has switched to virtual learning for the rest of the week.
“To proactively err on the side of caution and protect the safety of our students, staff and families, we have decided to shift (to a virtual) learning model,” a letter to guardians sent Tuesday reads.
Mount Mary University moved all of its classes virtual at noon Wednesday through Oct. 12.
The Wauwatosa Kickers Soccer Club has canceled all practices and games through Sunday to be “proactive in keeping everyone safe.”
The Wauwatosa Police Department also put up an 8-foot-tall steel fence around its perimeter.
Black Lives Matter protesters have been marching peacefully for 130 days in Milwaukee and surrounding suburbs. They have spent about 60 days in Wauwatosa. Wauwatosa police have largely not been called to the protests, although they did close down a Cheesecake Factory location near the mall after protests converged there.
A group of Wauwatosa social justice groups committed to addressing the “history of exclusionary racist practices in the city,” released a joint statement on Wedesday. They said while outside agitators are a concern, the expected sharp escalation in militarized policing practices is vastly disproportionate.
The statement says, in part: “We need calm to prevail. A counter-productive culture of fear and misinformation about the protesters as ‘outsiders’ and violent has been needlessly created at a time which demands more understanding and humility.”
In mid-August, Mensah moved to Greenfield. A neighbor of the officer said that since that time, he has seen an unmarked police car regularly outside Mensah’s home. The neighbor, who did not want his name publicized for fear of retaliation, said he’s also seen at least one camera set up in a tree.
In early August, Mensah was reportedly assaulted by protesters outside his Wauwatosa home. :
Mensah’s Greenfield neighbor said the officer has been moved, but beginning this afternoon, there will be a police-run checkpoint to get into the neighborhood.
“I’m not terribly worried,” he said. “We’ve been living for two months knowing he is here, and knowing this decision would come down.”
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