A former police officer who shot and killed three people during his five-year tenure with a department in Wisconsin will not be charged in connection with one of the fatal shootings, special prosecutors who reviewed the case said on Wednesday.
One of the court-appointed prosecutors said they would have trouble convincing a jury that Joseph Mensah had not acted in self-defense when he shot and killed Jay Anderson Jr., 25, in his car in a park in Wauwatosa, Wis., on June 23, 2016. Mr. Mensah told investigators that Mr. Anderson was reaching for a gun.
“One thing that we can prove beyond a reasonable doubt is that Officer Mensah intentionally shot and caused Jay Anderson’s death,” Scott Hansen, a Milwaukee lawyer and one of the two special prosecutors assigned to the case, said at a hearing on Wednesday.
Mr. Hansen said they could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Mensah acted unlawfully when he fatally shot Mr. Anderson.
“The decisive question that we ultimately focused on was self-defense,” he said. He noted that he and Tim Gruenke, the La Crosse County district attorney and the other special prosecutor who reviewed the case, looked at footage and still images from the officer’s dash camera and used a mock jury to determine that there was not enough evidence to prove Mr. Mensah had not acted in self-defense.
“He feared that if he didn’t shoot first, he was going to be shot himself,” Mr. Hansen said.
The Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office declined to charge Mr. Mensah shortly after Mr. Anderson’s death.
A lawyer for Mr. Anderson’s family, Kimberley Motley, later used an obscure provision in Wisconsin state law to get a Milwaukee County Circuit Court judge to hear evidence and decide whether there was probable cause to believe Mr. Mensah committed a felony when he shot Mr. Anderson. The court appointed Mr. Hansen and Mr. Gruenke as special prosecutors to review the case.
“We disagree with what happened in court today, but because we disagree doesn’t mean we are done fighting,” Ms. Motley said at a news conference after the special prosecutors announced their decision on Wednesday.
“It is ridiculous and unusual that an officer kills three people within a five-year time period,” she added.
A lawyer for Mr. Mensah was not immediately available for comment.
Mr. Mensah joined the Wauwatosa department in 2015. During his tenure there, Mr. Mensah fatally shot two people in addition to Mr. Anderson.
He shot and killed Alvin Cole, 17, in February 2020 after Mr. Cole refused to put down a firearm and ran from the police following a confrontation at a shopping mall.
In October 2020, John Chisholm, the Milwaukee district attorney, said he would not prosecute Mr. Mensah in connection with Mr. Cole’s shooting. Mr. Chisholm said that officers had reported that Mr. Cole pointed a gun at them at one point and that he then fired the gun while running away.
The decision set off protests and brought renewed attention to Mr. Mensah’s involvement in the two previous fatal shootings, including that of Mr. Anderson. In 2015, Mr. Mensah and another officer fatally shot Antonio Gonzalez, who was wielding a sword when police confronted him. Prosecutors declined to file charges against Mr. Mensah in each of those cases.
Mr. Mensah agreed to resign from the Wauwatosa department in November 2020 as part of a “separation agreement” with the local police union and the Common Council, the governing body of Wauwatosa, a city about five miles west of Milwaukee.
In January 2021, he joined the Waukesha County Sheriff’s Department, just across the county line, as a deputy. The department, which announced his hiring in a statement, said at the time that Mr. Mensah’s use of force was consistent with the law, as a handful of internal and independent investigations concluded.
The Sheriff’s Department did not respond to a request for comment. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that Mr. Mensah is currently employed as a detective with the department.