Waukesha County Sheriff Hires Former Wauwatosa Officer Involved In 3 Fatal Shootings

Joseph Mensah Resigned Last Year After Being Cleared In Most Recent Shooting

Wauwatosa Police Officer Joseph Mensah
This undated photo provided by the Wauwatosa Police Department in Wauwatosa, Wis., shows Wauwatosa Police Officer Joseph Mensah. In a report released Wednesday Oct. 7, 2020, an independent investigator recommended officials in the Milwaukee suburb fire Mensah, who has shot and killed three people in the last five years. Gary Monreal/Monreal Photography LLC/Wauwatosa Police Department via AP

Former Wauwatosa police officer Joseph Mensah, who killed three people in the line of duty and later resigned, has joined the Waukesha County Sheriff’s Department.

Sheriff Eric Severson released a statement Tuesday confirming Mensah is a deputy with the department following 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,” Severson’s statement says. “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 police policy. This is consistently with all other investigations.”

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Mensah will enter a supervised field training program with the Waukesha County Sheriff’s Department, Severson said.

Mensah resigned from the Wauwatosa Police Department Nov. 30 after being suspended since the summer following his third fatal shooting in five years. He will be paid by the city of Wauwatosa through the end of 2021.

Mensah was cleared by Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm in all three on-duty shootings.

Chisholm’s most recent decision in October, to clear Mensah in the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Alvin Cole, sparked a week of protests and arrests in Wauwatosa.

Former U.S. Attorney Steven Biskupic, was appointed by the Wauwatosa Police and Fire Commission as an independent investigator to look into the fatal shooting of Cole. Biskupic released a report hours before Chisholm’s announcement, and the report concluded Mensah should be fired because the risk of a fourth shooting is “too great.”

Ben Grunwald is an assistant professor at Duke University School of Law. He authored “Wandering Officers” for the Yale Law Journal focusing on law-enforcement officers fired by one department, sometimes for serious misconduct, who then find work at another agency. Mensah was not fired, he resigned, following the third fatal shooting and public outrage and protest.

Grunwald said law enforcement agencies are well insulated from legal liability, so the cost of hiring police officers marred in scandal is not internalized by the agency.

“Sometimes police agencies hire officers who have previously been fired because they want to, they know it and that’s exactly what they want, a cowboy cop,” Grunwald said. “Or, it’s because they think they want someone, and they think this is the best candidate that they have.”

Kimberley Motley represents the families of the three people Mensah killed. She said Wauwatosa Police Chief Barry Weber and the city’s Police and Fire Commission failed the state of Wisconsin by not firing Mensah.

“When they were trying to rush to a settlement, they should have contemplated that Mensah should have not been hired anywhere in the state of Wisconsin,” Motley said. “Now he is literally, a sheriff, right next door.”

A spokeswoman for the Wauwatosa Police Department said Mensah resigned in good standing, and they wish him the best.

The Waukesha County Sheriff’s Department does not use body cameras or dashboard cameras, according to its response in a recent survey from the state Department of Justice.

That same survey, released last week, found more than a third of the 553 Wisconsin law enforcement agencies that responded said they don’t use body cameras. Of the 434 agencies who responded to the request, 160 said they do not use body cameras.