Five years after a Wisconsin police officer shot and killed a Black man as he sat in a parked car, a judge declared he found probable cause to charge the officer for creating an “unreasonable and substantial risk of death” in the shooting.
According to USA Today, Milwaukee County Judge Glenn Yamahiro on Wednesday said former Wauwatosa police officer Joseph Mensah “operated a weapon in a matter constituting criminal negligence,” which led to the death of Jay Anderson, Jr. on June 23, 2016. A special prosecutor will be appointed to review the case and determine if Mensah, who is also Black, will be charged.
From USA Today:
Mensah was alone in his squad car on June 23, 2016, while patrolling Madison Park overnight when he discovered Anderson, 25, sleeping in his car at 3 a.m. When Mensah approached the vehicle, he told investigators that he saw a handgun on Anderson’s passenger seat and that Anderson reached for the gun.
Mensah said he drew his weapon and ordered Anderson to raise his hands and not to reach for the weapon. Anderson raised his hands, but at least four times he started to lower his right arm while leaning toward the front passenger seat, where the gun was, according to the investigative report.
Dashcam video from Mensah’s squad shows the officer shooting into Anderson’s parked car. Anderson was shot five times in the head and once in his shoulder.
Anderson was the third person that Mensah shot and killed in the line of duty during a five-year span with the Wauwatosa Police Department. The most recent was the 2020 shooting of 17-year-old Alvin Cole. All three shootings were previously ruled as justified by the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office.
The Associated Press reports that Anderson’s family banked on an obscure legal process to try and convince the court to overrule the prosecutors who declared that Mensah’s actions were justified.
The AP reports:
Kimberley Motley, an attorney representing the Gonzales, Anderson and Cole families, said she was researching the use of grand juries in Wisconsin in hopes of finding another avenue for charges and found what’s known as the John Doe option.
Wisconsin law dating to the state’s territorial days set up such proceedings as a check on prosecutorial discretion. Similar to grand jury investigations, prosecutors can invoke the process to subpoena witnesses and question them under oath and in secret in hopes of gathering enough evidence to justify charges against someone. Prosecutors used the process in the early 2010s to investigate then-Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign operations. Walker was never charged.
An even more obscure section of the John Doe law allows citizens to ask a judge to open a John Doe when a prosecutor has declined to file charges. The judge can choose to initiate the investigation and decide whether to run it publicly or in secret. The citizen or his or her attorney can question witnesses in front of the judge with no cross-examination. The judge can then decide whether charges are warranted and appoint a special prosecutor to handle the case.
Anderson’s family and supporters celebrated the judge’s decision, USA Today reports:
“I broke down. That broke me down. That’s justice. The judge gave us justice,” (Jay) Anderson Sr. said about the moment he heard the decision in the courtroom.
Tracy Cole, the mother of Alvin Cole, said the decision was “justice for all three families,” referring to the three people Mensah fatally shot.
“Now I can sleep better. Now I can sleep a lot better,” Cole said.
According to USA Today, Yamahiro is expected to appoint a special prosecutor to the case on Sept. 28.