Live Wauwatosa updates: Coles family upset at DAs decision not to charge Officer Joseph Mensah – Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Journal Sentinel reporters are covering the Milwaukee County District Attorney Office’s decision Wednesday whether or not to file criminal charges against Wauwatosa Police Officer Joseph Mensah in the Feb. 2 fatal shooting of 17-year-old Alvin Cole.

Anticipating unrest, the City of Wauwatosa has shut down City Hall for three days, with plans to reopen Monday. Tosa schools have also shifted to an all-virtual model for the rest of the week.

RELATED:Outside investigator: Tosa officer should be fired, citing ‘extraordinary’ risk of a fourth fatal shooting

RELATED:Officers are rarely charged with shootings in Milwaukee County. It’s even rarer for them to be convicted.

RELATED:Officer Joseph Mensah is appealing his suspension from the Wauwatosa Police Department, documents show

Check back for updates as stories continue to develop.

6 p.m.:Protesters march onto I-94

Protesters upset about the district attorney’s decision not to charge Wauwatosa Police Officer Joseph Mensah in Alvin Cole’s death marched onto Interstate 94 West, blocking traffic during rush hour.

They were directed toward the off-ramp at 25th Street. Milwaukee County Sheriff’s deputies told marchers they could be arrested if they stayed on the interstate, according to one livestream.

Deputies stopped traffic at the 25th Street exit. It was not immediately clear if anyone was arrested.

The marchers were trailed by a caravan of vehicles.

– Sophie Carson

Wauwatosa police chief will review report recommending Mensah’s firing

Wauwatosa Police Chief Barry Weber declined to comment on a report released Wednesday morning by an independent investigator that recommended the Wauwatosa Police and Fire Commission fire Officer Joseph Mensah but said he will review it.

“The administration of justice demands a legal and purposeful review of the facts. That was done in this case,” Weber said. “Police officers are put into difficult situations that require a decision to be made in fractions of seconds.”

– Sophie Carson

Neighborhood groups protest closures in Wauwatosa

Three Wauwatosa neighborhood groups criticized law enforcement agencies’ preparation for potential unrest in the city following District Attorney John Chisholm’s decision not to charge Officer Joseph Mensah.

In a statement from Tosa Together, Indivisible Tosa and Tosa Moms Tackling Racism: “It is with great disappointment that we see our city being closed down out of fear and distrust of what might happen.”

Several businesses and government offices in Wauwatosa closed early Wednesday in anticipation of unrest or violence, some even boarding up windows. Gov. Tony Evers authorized the Wisconsin National Guard to support local police in Wauwatosa, and military vehicles were outside Mayfair Mall Wednesday afternoon.

“Outside agitators are a concern, but the expected sharp escalation in militarized police practices is vastly disproportionate,” the groups said in a statement.

“Our mayor has decided to take actions this week that show how much control the police have. They show the escalatory tactics that our police department utilizes when controlled by fear and implicit bias against people of color.”

– Sophie Carson

Curfew in Wauwatosa from 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. because of worries about unrest

The City of Wauwatosa issued a 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew starting tonight through Monday. Officials cautioned people to stay home between these hours except for those going to or from work, such as government officials, social service workers, and credentialed members of the press.

There is no overnight parking of vehicles during the curfew to allow emergency service vehicles to respond.

Gasoline stations are closing between the curfew hours. Gas stations and hardware stores are prohibited from displaying and selling materials which could be used to start or accelerate the burning of buildings or the containers used to transport and dispense such materials.

City Hall and the Wauwatosa Public Library will also close to the public today through Monday.

– Meg Jones 

Cole’s family upset at DA’s decision not to charge officer

The family of Alvin Cole voiced their disappointment outside the Safety Building following their meeting with District Attorney John Chisholm, where they learned that no charges would be brought against Joseph Mensah.

“DA Chisholm needs to try harder,” Cole’s sister Taleavia Cole said.

“You showed your bias,” she said of Chisholm. “All these Black families walking in here to meet with you about their loved one that has been killed by Joseph Mensah and you have yet to not justify it.”

Alvin Cole's mother speaks outside Milwaukee County Courthouse after hearing  that Wauwatosa Police Officer Joseph Mensah will not face criminal charges for the Feb. 2 fatal shooting of 17-year-old Alvin Cole. Wednesday October 7, 2020.

Taleavia Cole said her family would push for Mensah to be fired.

“The fight continues,” she said. “It doesn’t end here. We’ve got to make sure Joseph is fired immediately, we’ve got to make sure he don’t get a job ever again as a police officer.”

– Sophie Carson

5:02 p.m.: ‘Hundreds’ of National Guard troops standing by

Wisconsin National Guard spokesman Maj. Joe Trovato said “hundreds” of troops are staging at State Fair Park and will stay as long as local law enforcement is requesting assistance.

“Their role is to support the civil authorities,” Trovato said, without specifying just how, or where they expect to deploy. “The situation is fluid.”

— Bruce Vielmetti

4:53 p.m.: Charges will not be filed against Joseph Mensah

Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm, in a 14-page report, declined to file charges against Wauwatosa police officer Joseph Mensah in the Feb. 2 shooting death of Alvin Cole.

“In this case, there is sufficient evidence that Officer Mensah had an actual subjective belief that deadly force was necessary and that belief was objectively reasonable,” Chisholm wrote. “I do not believe that the State could disprove self-defense or defense of others in this case and therefore could not meet the burden required to charge Officer Mensah. With this I conclude my criminal review of the matter.”

Chisholm also wrote in the letter:

“It is believed that Cole discharged the firearm while running. Cole was ordered to surrender the firearm by Officer Shamsi who was closest to him. Officers Olson, Shamsi and Mensah all stated that at some point Mr. Cole pointed the gun in their direction and did not surrender the firearm.”

Police were called after Cole argued with another man inside Mayfair Mall and displayed a stolen 9 mm handgun, according to a letter from the district attorney’s office to the Wauwatosa police chief.

A bystander posted video of the altercation on Facebook. Police squad video shows some of what happened next:

Officers spotted Cole, another man and a woman leaving the parking garage south of the Nordstrom store. Police detained the man with him, but Cole kept running. He was pursued by three officers, including Mensah, and a mall security guard. A shot “was discharged from Cole’s vicinity,” the letter says, and Cole “went to the ground with a firearm in his right hand.”

“Because it was later determined that Alvin Cole had a graze wound to his left forearm, and because a spent casing was still in the chamber of the firearm recovered from Cole, it is believed that Cole discharged the firearm while running.”

All three officers said Cole was “ordered to surrender the firearm,” but he instead pointed it in their direction. Mensah fired five rounds, killing Cole.

The woman who owned the gun discovered it was missing in July but didn’t report it stolen until October, the report says.

After the shooting, a photo surfaced on Facebook of Cole holding a semi-automatic pistol with an extended magazine. Cole was too young to legally own a firearm plus juvenile felony convictions barred him from legally possessing a gun.

“The consequences for illegal gun possession are significant and may have contributed to Mr. Cole’s flight from police,” the report says.

Cole and the man he argued with inside the mall didn’t know each other, according to statements he made to a Milwaukee detective.

The man and his nephews were walking through the mall when they ran into a woman they knew. She tried to scare them and they all laughed. Cole seemed to believe they were laughing at him and started following them. Eventually about half a dozen people confronted him and Cole started to pull the gun out of a fanny pack.

The man told Cole “he was not afraid and he should just go home because he was a kid,” the report says.

The man tried to grab the gun. A security guard grabbed him and Cole walked away.

– Bruce Vielmetti, Gina Barton

4:25 p.m.: Portion of State Street closed downtown, fencing erected in Wauwatosa

Wauwatosa Police Department , 1700 N 116th Street, in Wauwatosa is surrounded by fencing on Wednesday October 7, 2020.

Law enforcement has blocked off State Street in downtown Milwaukee from 8th Street to 9th Street, the site of the Milwaukee County Safety Building. It’s there that protesters have gathered, awaiting word from the Milwaukee County district attorney on a decision to charge Wauwatosa Police Officer Joseph Mensah in the shooting of Alvin Cole.

In Wauwatosa, workers have placed tall metal fences around the perimeter of the Wauwatosa Police Department, located on North 116th Street.

Concrete barriers have been placed on the adjacent Walnut Road.

3:55 p.m.: National Guard presence at Mayfair mall, site of Cole shooting

Members of the National Guard have arrived at Mayfair mall in Wauwatosa, the site of the shooting that took the life of Alvin Cole in February.

As of the mall’s 4 p.m. close, official word still had not been delivered by the Milwaukee County district attorney as to whether Wauwatosa Police officer Joseph Mensah would face criminal charges for that shooting. 

The mall closed early in anticipation of the decision and potential unrest to follow. 

3:40 p.m.: Protesters have gathered in downtown Milwaukee awaiting decision

Reporters are downtown where protesters have gathered at the Milwaukee County Safety Building, awaiting word from District Attorney John Chisolm on whether Joseph Mensah will be charged.

3:30 p.m.: National Guard to have presence in Wauwatosa

Gov. Tony Evers authorized the Wisconsin National Guard to support local law enforcement authorities in Wauwatosa after officials there requested the Guard’s assistance to help ensure public safety.

A decision on charges from the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s office regarding Wauwatosa police officer Joseph Mensah was expected Wednesday afternoon in the Feb. 2 shooting death of Alvin Cole.

“One of our core missions in the Wisconsin National Guard is to serve our fellow citizens and preserve public safety,” said Maj. Gen. Paul Knapp, Wisconsin’s adjutant general, in a release. “Our Citizen Soldiers and Airmen live and work in the same communities all across Wisconsin, and we’re well-trained and prepared to assist our neighbors in any way we can.”

The release noted, “Guard members called to active duty will be used to support local law enforcement efforts to preserve public safety, protect critical infrastructure, and cultural institutions necessary for the well-being of the community, and to provide support to first responders such as the Wauwatosa Fire Department.”

3:22 p.m.: Police union representative calls Biskupic’s findings on Mensah ‘utterly preposterous’

The executive director for the state’s largest police union called the conclusions of a former U.S. attorney who says Officer Joseph Mensah should be fired “utterly preposterous.”

The independent investigator, Steven Biskupic, determined allowing Mensah to continue as a fully empowered police officer, with the authorization to potentially use deadly force for a fourth time, “creates an extraordinary, unwarranted and unnecessary risk to the Wauwatosa Police Department and the City of Wauwatosa.”

Jim Palmer, executive director of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association, compared the rationale to the science-fiction film “Minority Report,” where people are arrested before they commit crimes.

“To use something that hasn’t occurred, a fourth shooting, as a basis for terminating Officer Mensah now is ridiculous,” said Palmer, whose organization is not representing Mensah.

Biskupic also found Mensah had made “inconsistent and misleading” public statements about the shootings, which could compromise his ability to testify in court, and violated a policy banning officers from discussing ongoing investigations of police shootings.

Although Mensah’s interviews may have broken department rules, Palmer said he was unaware of any other case in the state of an officer being fired for such an infraction.

And while a public policy discussion could be had about the same officer being involved in three fatal shootings, Palmer noted Biskupic did not appear to find any rule violations in the shooting of 17-year-old Alvin Cole. 

“An employer could decide in our interests, your safety and the credibility of your agency, we should find a way to mutually agree to part ways — that would be appropriate,” Palmer said. “But to conjure up grounds for just cause and for termination, under the facts cited by Biskupic is, like I said, preposterous.”

Read the full story from Ashley Luthern.

2:30 p.m.: Wauwatosa police officers will have body cameras going forward

The Wauwatosa Common Council unanimously voted Tuesday to approve a video recording contract that will equip every Wauwatosa police officer with a body camera by the end of the year.

The five-year contract with Axon Enterprise Inc. will cost $762,064. Within the next two months, the city will get 120 body cameras and new video recording equipment for the police department, including in-squad, interview and booking room cameras.

An annual fee, covered by the police department’s budget, will pay for video storage and file management, said Ald. Craig Wilson.

The city ramped up its years-long discussions on body cameras this summer after a series of protests and the beginning of an investigation of Wauwatosa Police Officer Joseph Mensah.

Read the full story from Eddie Morales.

12:30 p.m.: Here is why it’s so rare for officers to be charged in shootings

For months, protesters have called for Wauwatosa Police Officer Joseph Mensah to be fired and criminally charged in the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Alvin Cole.

The shooting was the third time in five years Mensah has shot and killed someone in the line of duty. Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm cleared Mensah of criminal wrongdoing in the earlier two shootings.

Chisholm is expected to decide Wednesday if he will file any charges against Mensah in this case — and if history is any indication, he likely will not charge the officer. 

That’s because it is extremely difficult under the law to prove an officer did not act in self-defense when firing shots.

Read the full story from Ashley Luthern.

12:15 p.m.: Officers are rarely charged for shootings in Milwaukee County

If Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm decides to file charges against a Wauwatosa police officer in the fatal shooting of a teen, it will only be among a handful of police-related shootings prosecuted in the past 50 years in the county.

Chisholm is to issue a decision on the matter Wednesday afternoon.

Officer Joseph Mensah shot and killed 17-year-old Alvin Cole on Feb. 2 outside Mayfair Mall. According to initial information provided by Wauwatosa police, Cole fired one shot with a stolen gun before Mensah returned fire. Cole’s family disputes that the teen fired a gun during the encounter.

It is the third time Mensah has shot and killed someone in the line of duty. In the earlier shootings, Chisholm did not charge the officer and Tosa police did not discipline him internally. The shooting of Cole has generated national attention and led to protests.

Read the full story from Ashley Luthern.

10:45 a.m.: Wauwatosa bracing for unrest following decision

In anticipation of Wednesday’s protests, Gov. Tony Evers authorized the National Guard to assist local law enforcement in Wauwatosa.

The Milwaukee County Courthouse, Safety Building and Criminal Justice Facility closed at 2 p.m. Wednesday.

“In anticipation of today’s decision, I encourage County employees to use the early closure to continue to heal from the trauma of the last seven months and reflect on the County’s stated goals of achieving racial equity and becoming the healthiest county in the state,” said County Executive David Crowley in a news release. “I’m confident that closing these County facilities early will not only give us all much needed time for reflection and self-care, but also help prevent the escalation of the anticipated peaceful vigils and protests in the downtown area this evening.”  

Wauwatosa City Hall and the library closed at noon for the remainder of the week, and the Wauwatosa School District has shifted to virtual learning.

Read the full story from Evan Casey and Eddie Morales.

10:30 a.m.: Outside investigator says Mensah should be fired

A former U.S. attorney hired by the Wauwatosa Fire and Police Commission has recommended Officer Joseph Mensah be fired after his third fatal on-duty shooting, according to a report released Wednesday.

Allowing Mensah to continue as a fully empowered police officer, with the authorization to potentially use deadly force for a fourth time, “creates an extraordinary, unwarranted and unnecessary risk to the Wauwatosa Police Department and the City of Wauwatosa,” Steven Biskupic wrote in his report.

Read the full story from Ashley Luthern.