MILWAUKEE — A Wisconsin judge on Wednesday announced he found probable cause to charge a police officer in the 2016 fatal shooting of a Black man who was sitting in a parked car.
Milwaukee County Judge Glenn Yamahiro said former Wauwatosa police officer Joseph Mensah, who is also Black, would be charged with homicide by negligent use of a weapon in Jay Anderson Jr.’s death.
The decision came more than five years after the shooting in Wauwatosa, a Milwaukee suburb. At the time, the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office ruled the shooting justified self-defense.
The decision marks a victory for Anderson’s family, whose attorney used a rare legal process to pursue charges against Mensah.
Mensah was alone in his squad car on June 23, 2016, while patrolling Madison Park overnight when he discovered Anderson, 25, sleeping in his car at 3 a.m. When Mensah approached the vehicle, he told investigators that he saw a handgun on Anderson’s passenger seat and that Anderson reached for the gun.
Mensah said he drew his weapon and ordered Anderson to raise his hands and not to reach for the weapon. Anderson raised his hands, but at least four times he started to lower his right arm while leaning toward the front passenger seat, where the gun was, according to the investigative report.
Dashcam video from Mensah’s squad shows the officer shooting into Anderson’s parked car. Anderson was shot five times in the head and once in his shoulder.
Yamahiro said Mensah created an “unreasonable and substantial risk of death” in the shooting.
“Based upon the totality of 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.,” Yamahiro said. The judge will appoint a special prosecutor to file the charges, which could take several weeks.
Mensah has shot and killed three people in the line of duty during a five-year span while he was employed with the Wauwatosa Police Department. The Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office ruled all three shootings justified self-defense, including the most recent shooting of 17-year-old Alvin Cole in 2020.
Mensah is now a deputy with the Waukesha County Sheriff’s Department.
After District Attorney John Chisholm decided not to file charges against Mensah in 2016, Anderson’s family sought a federal review for a civil rights violation. In February 2017, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Eastern Wisconsin declined to prosecute Mensah.
Kimberley Motley, the attorney for the Anderson family, took advantage of a little-used provision in state law to ask the judge for a second look at the case.
Under Wisconsin law, if a district attorney “refuses or is unavailable to issue a complaint, a circuit judge may permit the filing of a complaint.” Before the court can do that, the judge must find probable cause to believe that a person should be charged with an offense.
Motley had been trying to prove that the shooting was unreasonable throughout four hearings that were held from February to May. During the final hearing, Motley told Yamahiro she doesn’t believe Anderson was ever a threat to Mensah during the incident.
Reach reporter Evan Casey on Twitter at @ecaseymedia.