A Wisconsin judge found probable cause to charge a former police officer in a 2016 fatal shooting, after a rare legal process allowed him to overrule prosecutors who initially had decided not to pursue charges.
Milwaukee County Judge Glenn Yamahiro said Wednesday (July 28) that probable cause existed to charge Joseph Mensah with homicide by negligent use of a weapon in the death of Jay Anderson Jr. Mensah shot Anderson after discovering him sleeping in his car at night in a park in Wauwatosa, a Milwaukee suburb.
Yamahiro also ordered a special prosecutor to formally file the charge within 60 days, NBC News reports.
Mensah, who is also Black, said he shot Anderson after Anderson reached for a gun, but Yamahiro said the evidence did not substantiate Mensah's version of events. The judge said that the charge against Mensah was warranted because he should have been aware that pulling his weapon on Anderson created an unreasonable risk of death. He also said Mensah could have taken steps to de-escalate the situation, including waiting for backup that was already on the way.
The judge also noted problems with the investigation and said there were structural defects with having neighboring law enforcement agencies investigate one another, and having nearby district attorneys make charging decisions.
The decision is a victory for Anderson’s family, who took advantage of a rare provision in state law to ask the judge for a second look at the case, after prosecutors declined to press charges. The rare provision the Anderson family used is a Wisconsin state law that allows judges to directly question witnesses in a John Doe proceeding. If a judge finds sufficient evidence for charges, said judge can file them directly, going around prosecutors.
Anderson was the second of three people Mensah fatally shot during a five-year stint with the Wauwatosa Police Department. In 2015, Mensah also fatally shot Antonio Gonzales, who self-identified as Latino and American Indian. After the Anderson shooting in 2016, Mensah then fatally shot 17-year-old Alvin Cole as Cole fled from police during a disturbance in a mall in 2020.
Prosecutors cleared Mensah in each case, with Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm’s decision not to charge him in the Cole shooting leading to protests in Wauwatosa in October 2020.
Mensah resigned from the Wauwatosa Police Department in November 2020. He collected a $130,000 severance payment and now works as a Waukesha County deputy in another Milwaukee suburb.
Kimberley Motley, Anderson’s attorney, also represents the Gonzales and Cole families. She told NBC that she is considering invoking the same John Doe process for them.
(AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)