On July 28, Milwaukee County Circuit Court judge Glen Yamahiro ruled that ex-Wauwatosa police officer Joseph Mensah can be prosecuted for the killing of Jay Anderson Jr.
Anderson, a Black man, was sleeping in his car in Madison Park at night in 2016 before being confronted and killed by Mensah. The judge found probable cause exists for the crime of homicide by a dangerous weapon by Mensah, who is currently a sheriff’s deputy in Waukesha County. A special prosecutor will be appointed within 60 days.
The killing of Jay Anderson
According to the investigative summary by the Milwaukee police, at 3:35 a.m. on June 23, 2016, Mensah killed Jay Anderson Jr. while patrolling Madison Park in Wauwatosa for after-hours loitering violations. Mensah approached Anderson alone as he slept in his car. The summary claims that Mensah spotted a handgun on Anderson’s passenger-side seat causing him to order Anderson to put his hands up. Reporting from Mensah’s perspective, the summary alleges that Anderson began lowering his right hand and then lunged for the gun. Mensah shot Anderson in the head five times and once in his upper-right shoulder.
Mensah did not have a body camera, but his squad-car camera did capture video, but not audio, of the shooting. Regular and enhanced footage can be seen here.
Barry Weber, Chief of the Wauwatosa Police at the time, rationalized Mensah’s acting saying that he reviewed the footage numerous times at various frame rates and screen sizes. Drawing upon the notion of officer safety, WUWM reported Weber as saying, “A police officer who reasonably believes there is an imminent threat of danger or great bodily harm is authorized by law to use deadly force.”
A lawyer for the Anderson family, Jon Safran, countered the claim that Anderson lunged for the gun by saying that the video shows Anderson nodding off due to being tired. From the video, Anderson did not lunge for the gun but is still upright before he is killed by Mensah.
After the killing was referred to the Milwaukee Police Department for investigation, as required by law, Mensah was again cleared of all charges. The announcement was made after Anderson’s family met with Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm, who told them that Mensah’s actions were justified as self-defense. (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)
Shortly after, the Anderson family’s attorney contacted and requested that the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Milwaukee investigate to see if federal criminal charges could be brought. Federal investigators did investigate the case but failed to bring charges against Mensah. In a letter released by the Anderson family, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that the Department of Justice iterated that it saw “no reasonable basis for a criminal prosecution.” The ruling allowed Mensah to escape accountability, and he would go on to kill Alvin Cole in February of 2020.
Probable cause for prosecution determined
As reported by Liberation News, a hearing to reopen the case of Jay Anderson was held on Feb. 26, and subpoenas were served on Mensah and retired Wauwatosa Chief of Police Barry Weber. Other witnesses who had been with Anderson shortly before his death, but were not interviewed in the initial investigation by Milwaukee District Attorney John Chisholm, were also summoned. The hearings occurred after Jay Anderson Jr.’s family and their attorney Kimberly Motley requested John Doe proceedings. Hearings occurred from February through May.
Weber testified to the court that Mensah had the right to shoot Anderson because the latter was armed and not following directions. (Wisconsin Public Radio) However, Weber’s view was contradicted by other testimony during the proceedings.
At the conclusion of the hearing, Judge Yamahiro ruled that, “based upon the totality of the circumstances, the court does find probable cause that Officer Joseph Mensah operated a weapon, in a matter constituting criminal negligence, and in so doing, caused the death of Jay Anderson Jr.”
Mensah’s prosecution celebrated
In the aftermath of the ruling, members of the community cheered the decision outside the courtroom. Chants of “Jay Anderson” and “Indict, Convict” echoed through the Milwaukee Courthouse hallways.
Later on in the day, The People’s Revolution, the anti-racist organization fighting against police violence and terrorism in Milwaukee, organized a celebratory march through the streets of Wauwatosa. Before the march began, TPR organizers and Motley spoke to the crowd of demonstrators.
“We got a victory today, but we got a war ahead of us,” said TPR organizer Kamila Ahmed. “Every victory counts … I know there are people out there who say ‘protesting don’t work, you’ll be wasting your time …’ We are all willing to put in the work … Moving forward, we still have a lot we have to do. We gone keep checking in because this man [Mensah] is a menace to society.”
“Today history was made,” said TPR organizer Ryee Smith. “All I’m saying is, if they admitted to one, god damn it, they got to admit to them all. There’s a lot more families that got to get justice.”
Despite the celebratory nature of the march, reportedly, a woman in a car attempted to drive through the march, but was prevented from doing so by the security team provided by TPR. However, soon after, Wauwatosa police (Mensah’s former department) arrived on the scene and one officer was videotaped with his gun unholstered and one unmarked squad car had multiple officers exit their vehicle in tactical gear with one of them wielding a beanbag shotgun. Police overreaction and attempted intimidation notwithstanding, no demonstrators were hurt or arrested. The police left and the march for Jay Anderson continued.
Despite the progress made in the struggle to bring Joseph Mensah to justice, the decision to actually indict Joseph Mensah will be in the hands of the chosen special prosecutor.
Feature photo: Protesters march in support of Jay Anderson who was killed by ex-Wauwatosa police officer Joseph Mensah. Liberation photo