MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Two court-appointed prosecutors declined Wednesday to charge a Wisconsin sheriff’s deputy in the 2016 fatal shooting of a man sleeping in a park.
The decision validates a district attorney’s finding years ago that Joseph Mensah had acted in self-defense when he shot Jay Anderson Jr., one of three people he fatally shot over a five-year span.
Mensah was a Wauwatosa police officer at the time but has since become a Waukesha County deputy.
The special prosecutors, Milwaukee attorney Scott Hansen and La Crosse County District Attorney Tim Gruenke, said they couldn’t find any legal basis for charging Mensah.
Mensah came upon Anderson, who was 25, sleeping in a car after hours in a Wauwatosa park in June 2016. Mensah said he fired after Anderson reached for a gun on the passenger seat, and Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm declined to charge Mensah later that year. Chisholm also chose not to charge Mensah in the deaths of either of the other two people he killed.
Anderson’s family disputed that Anderson had reached for the gun and their attorney used a obscure legal maneuver similar to a grand jury inquiry to persuade Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Glenn Yamahiro that there was enough probable cause to support charging Mensah. In December, he appointed Hansen and Gruenke as special prosecutors to review the case and file charges if they saw fit.
Mensah joined the Wauwatosa Police Department in 2015. That year, he fatally shot Antonio Gonzales, who prosecutors said had refused to drop a sword. Mensah killed Anderson the following year. In 2020, he shot and killed 17-year-old Alvin Cole as Cole fled from police following a disturbance at a mall. Mensah said he fired because Cole pointed a gun at him. That shooting sparked months of protests.
In explaining his rationale for not charging Mensah in Cole’s death, Chisholm said evidence showed, among other things, that Cole fled from police carrying a stolen handgun, fired a shot while fleeing and refused police commands to drop the weapon.
Mensah is Black, as were Anderson and Cole. Gonzales identified as Native American.
Mensah resigned under pressure from the Wauwatosa Police Department in 2020 and joined the Waukesha County Sheriff’s Department.