Jay Anderson Jr. shooting: Judge appoints special prosecutors to review case

A Milwaukee County judge appointed two special prosecutors, including a western Wisconsin district attorney, to review the 2016 Wauwatosa police shooting death of a Milwaukee man.

The move follows a year-plus effort by the man's family to have the case reopened using a rarely-used state law.

During a hearing on Dec. 8, Milwaukee Circuit Court Judge Glenn Yamahiro appointed La Crosse County District Attorney Tim Gruenke and long-time litigator Scott Hansen, of counsel at Milwaukee-based law firm Reinhart Boerner Van Deuren, to review the shooting death of Jay Anderson Jr. by former Officer Joseph Mensah, and make a charging decision.

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"I did not seek this case out. The case was brought to me. And I felt a responsibility, in particular, not to hide behind a non-existent conflict," said Yamahiro.

This past summer, Yamahiro found probable cause that the former officer committed homicide in the death of Anderson, who was shot and killed while sitting in a parked car in a Wauwatosa park.

Dashcam footage of the June 2016 shooting of Jay Anderson Jr.

Yamahiro said he thought long and hard about how he wanted to go about choosing a special prosecutor, ultimately wanting at least one person who was not a career prosecutor and well-established in the Milwaukee legal community. In the end, Yamahiro said, he chose the two men because of their experience, no need for name recognition, and high regard in the legal community.

"And the reason that I have sought out people such as that I’ve such described, is because regardless of the decision by the special prosecutor, I want the community to be able to have confidence that this was given a proper review; nothing more than that and nothing less than that."

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Despite the fourth months it took to get to this point, Yamahiro wanted to make clear he spoke with only a small number of attorneys he felt would be up to the task – and capable to carry it through – if the case were to, ultimately, head to trial.

"I really couldn’t be happier with the way this has ultimately turned out. I have full confidence in both Mr. Hansen and Mr. Gruenke," said Yamahiro.

Scott Hansen; Tim Gruenke 

Hansen spoke briefly with the media following the hearing, deferring any comment about the case; he has yet to review it. 

"We’ve got a lot of investigating to do," Hansen said. "We intend to do a very thorough and independent job, and hopefully will justify the judge’s confidence in us."

Gruenke, who has been a prosecutor for nearly three decades, also declined to comment when reached by email Wednesday afternoon. Messages to an attorney for Mensah, were not returned.

‘John Doe’ hearing

The Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office ruled Mensah was justified in the fatal shootings of Anderson and two others in a five-year span. But Anderson’s family petitioned the court late last year to review the case under a state statute that permits a judge to file a complaint, if probable cause is found.

Earlier this year, Anderson family attorney Kimberley Motley presented arguments, conducted witness testimony – including that of former Wauwatosa Police Chief Barry Weber – and entered evidence into the record during several ex-parte hearings held in open court. It meant prosecutors or Mensah’s defense team could be present, but had no standing to participate.

Attorney Kimberley Motley

"This is historic. There has never been – this case has never happened, this situation has never happened in the state of Wisconsin," Motley said after Wednesday's hearing. "I think we’re all learning together, so I hope that there aren’t any bureaucratic loopholes that happen that prevent this matter from going forward."

The legal effort by Anderson’s family hinged on use of a rarely used state statute, though dating back to 1969, when the state’s criminal procedure laws were redrafted, adding a subsection that: "If a district attorney refused or is unavailable to issue a complaint, a county judge may permit the filing of a complaint if (he or she) finds there is probable cause to believe that the person to be charged has committed an offense after conducting a hearing."

Wauwatosa Police Department

The statute serves as a check on prosecutors, allowing for judicial review.

While Yamahiro found probable cause Mensah committed homicide by negligent use of a dangerous weapon, Mensah has not been charged with a crime. It is now up to the special prosecutors to review the case and make a charging decision.

"We know who committed this offense. It’s not hard," said Motley. "But the question now is – whether or not the new attorneys that have been appointed – whether they agree that there should be criminal charges."

Fatal shootings

Anderson was shot and killed by the then-Wauwatosa police officer in Madison Park during the early morning hours of June 23, 2016. Based on the evidence presented by Motley, Yamahiro agreed there were a number of alternative choices Mensah could have chosen, that poor tactical decisions were made that night by Mensah and that the record indicated Anderson never lunged for a weapon, as Mensah claimed.

It was the second fatal shooting involving Mensah in less than a year. In July 2015, Mensah shot and killed 29-year-old Antonio Gonzales after police said Gonzales refused to drop a sword.

On Feb. 2, 2020, 17-year-old Alvin Cole was shot and killed by Mensah in the parking lot of Mayfair Mall, after police were called for an argument inside and that a person had a weapon. Squad video showed a group, including Cole, walking before running off. A short time later, a gunshot is heard, and video showed a muzzle flash. 

Joseph Mensah; Antonio Gonzales, Jay Anderson Jr., Alvin Cole

Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm said in October 2020, after ruling the shooting justified, that all the evidence supports Cole shot himself in the arm while running. Seconds later, as officers yelled for Cole to drop the gun, the officers said Cole pointed it at them. That’s when Mensah opened fire.

The Cole shooting came months before the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis that prompted nationwide protests. Cole, Gonzales and Anderson’s names were invoked during protests in and around the Milwaukee area, including Wauwatosa.

Mensah resigned from the Wauwatosa Police Department in November 2020 after collecting a severance payment and was hired as a Waukesha County sheriff's deputy.

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