Wauwatosa Police Officer Joseph Mensah will not be charged in the fatal shooting of teenager Alvin Cole, the Milwaukee County District Attorney announced Wednesday.
Mensah shot and killed Cole on Feb. 2 outside of Mayfair Mall. Police said the 17-year-old had fired at officers first before being shot. A report from an independent investigator found, however, that "Cole did not fire at Officer Mensah or any other officer. Cole shot himself in the arm while running away from the officers.”
The fatal shooting was Mensah's third in the past five years; the two previous shootings were ruled justified as well.
Mensah shot and killed Antonio Gonzales in 2015 and Jay Anderson Jr. in 2016.
Reaction to the decision is pouring in from around the state. Here's a roundup of what local leaders are saying:
Wauwatosa Police Chief Barry Weber
"Unrelated to this announcement today, Officer Mensah remains on administrative suspension pending ongoing proceedings with the Wauwatosa Police and Fire Commission," Chief Weber said in a statement. "The timeline for conclusion of those proceedings is unknown at this time."
Read his full statement here:
Wauwatosa Mayor Dennis McBride
"Following a thorough review of facts and evidence, Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm has determined that Wauwatosa Police Officer Joseph Mensah was justified in the shooting of Alvin Cole while on duty on February 2, 2020. This issue has divided Wauwatosa and the greater Milwaukee community.
Some will agree with District Attorney Chisholm, and some will not. This debate will not end with today’s decision. But it is important to remember that the wheels of government and law will continue to turn. In a democracy, any change must come through the functioning of people elected by the people to serve the people. I support the Police Department’s equity efforts, and I also am working with all City departments to refocus our work and craft policies with an equity lens.
Given recent events in Kenosha, Louisville, and other cities around the country, it should be clear that we all must do everything we can to keep our community peaceful. Violence is not the answer; it only impoverishes communities and brings more pain and despair. Since mid-July, the Wauwatosa Police Department (WPD), Wauwatosa Fire Department, and Office of Governor Tony Evers have been preparing for the District Attorney’s decision. Today I issued an emergency declaration to help ensure everyone’s well-being.
The WPD will protect the lives and property of all residents and businesses while continuing to protect the constitutional rights of people to engage in peaceful protests. This is a time for quiet reflection. Regardless of a person’s opinion about the District Attorney’s decision, the Cole family has lost a son and a brother. Many years ago, on the day that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was killed, Senator Robert Kennedy, who knew the pain of untimely deaths in his family, called for peace.
He said: “What we need in the United States is not division; what we need . . . is not hatred; what we need . . . is not violence or lawlessness; but love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another. . . . We can do well in this country. We will have difficult times; we've had difficult times in the past; we will have difficult times in the future. . . But the vast majority of white people and . . . black people in this country want to live together, want to improve the quality of our life, and want justice for all human beings who abide in our land. . . Let us dedicate ourselves to that, and say a prayer for our country and for our people.” I ask all people, regardless of their viewpoints, to remain peaceful and calm as we work our way through this difficult time. We all must keep each other safe."
Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley
“Our hearts and prayers remain with the Cole family as they continue to cope with the loss of Alvin Cole. All summer the community has grieved the Black lives taken from us too soon and asked for a swift change in police oversight and accountability.
“Municipalities must act quickly to adopt the tools and best practices that increase police accountability, like body cameras. We can’t put a cost on human lives or delivering justice to communities of color. We must put our money where our mouth is and take the steps to invest in the protection and success of our Black residents.
“After Jacob Blake was shot seven times in the back by a Kenosha police officer in August, Governor Evers called the state legislature into a special session to take action on a package of bills aimed at increasing police accountability and transparency. The state legislature must recognize the urgent need for action so Black residents feel safe in their neighborhoods. The legislature should convene to seriously consider these bills, several of which are backed by the Wisconsin Professional Police Association showing that there is a general agreement between the community and law enforcement on the need for meaningful action.
“The impact of centuries of oppression can’t be undone overnight, but the time for change is always now, and there are steps we can immediately take to increase police accountability, better serve justice for Wisconsinites, and possibly save lives. We know reform alone isn’t the sole solution to our problems but listening to the people’s call for action doesn’t mean kicking the can further down the road. The call to value Black lives means taking whatever practical steps we can to implement change, seek justice, and ultimately transform a system that continues to cut Black lives short.”
Congresswoman Gwen Moore:
“Tragedies like these have happened too often. It's incredibly alarming that this police officer has been involved in the fatal shootings of three people. What is clear is that we need greater accountability and transparency in policing. This must include mandatory body cameras, psychological testing, de-escalation training, and other key reforms.”
ACLU of Wisconsin
Chris Ott, Executive Director of the ACLU of Wisconsin, said the following:
“The decision not to charge Wauwatosa Police Officer Joseph Mensah in the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Alvin Cole is reprehensible, and reflects the systemic lack of accountability for police, who continue to kill and hurt Black and Brown people without legal consequences. Law enforcement has a long track record of resorting to deadly force in situations where it isn’t necessary, especially against people of color. It is unacceptable that officers continually evade consequences when they abuse their power. We support the recommendation of former U.S. attorney Steven Biskupic, who was hired by the Wauwatosa Police and Fire Commission, and said that Mensah should be fired from his position because there was an ‘extraordinary risk’ that he would be involved in a fourth fatal shooting should he keep his job.”
US Attorney Matthew Krueger
United States Attorney Matthew Krueger, who is based in Wisconsin, warned protesters to stay peaceful in a statement released Wednesday evening:
Federal law enforcement in Wisconsin is sworn to protect First Amendment rights, which include the rights to speak and assemble “peaceably.” In the past year, however, in addition to witnessing peaceful protests, some Wisconsin communities have suffered episodes of violent civil unrest. Federal law enforcement is joined with state and local authorities to address any further violence," Krueger said in the statement.
"Federal law imposes serious penalties for arson, rioting, firearms offenses, and other violent crimes, which we will prosecute to the fullest extent possible. No one else in Wisconsin should become a victim of needless violence or face destruction of a business as a result of unrest,"