WAUWATOSA, Wis. - Joseph Mensah will resign from the Wauwatosa Police Department Nov. 30, after the Wauwatosa Common Council Tuesday, Nov. 17 entered into a separation agreement between Mensah, the Wauwatosa Peace Officer’s Association and the city. Mensah has been involved in three fatal shootings in five years.
Wauwatosa Police Officer Joseph Mensah
According to a statement on the city's website, the city asked the Police and Fire Commission to meet as soon as practical to dismiss the charges pending against Mensah as he will no longer be an employee of the city.
Mensah was suspended by the PFC in July. The unanimous vote by five commissioners, done virtually over Zoom because of the coronavirus pandemic, came as part of a special meeting that accepted administrative charges filed against Mensah by the family of Jay Anderson, one of three people fatally shot by Mensah. He has been cleared of any criminal wrongdoing in all three cases.
Joseph Mensah, Antonio Gonzalez, Jay Anderson, Alvin Cole
"Now is the time for all of us to come together and heal," said Wauwatosa Mayor Dennis McBride in the statement on the city's website. "We've made substantial progress during 2020, and in the coming year we'll continue to focus on positive change for our community. As before, I'm committed to working with the Common Council, the city's Equity and Inclusion Commission, and members of the public to make that happen."
"I think it’s always important to be able to question Officer Mensah, to understand ask what was going in his mind during the shootings of Alvin Cole, Jay Anderson, and Antonio Gonzalez and so the question of him at the hearing is something that’s not gonna happen. It was important to question Chief Weber and how he supervised or did not supervisor Mensah, which frankly is very important for the people to know as he still remains the chief of the Wauwatosa PD," said Kimberley Motley, an attorney representing the families of all three people Mensah fatally shot.
The most recent shooting took place in February when Mensah shot 17-year-old Alvin Cole during a chase outside Mayfair Mall. The decision not to charge him in that shooting sparked several nights of protests in the Milwaukee suburb, some of which turned violent.
Former federal prosecutor Steven Biskupic issued a report in early October saying Mensah should be fired because the risk that he would kill a fourth person and expose the city to liability was too great. Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm, who cleared Mensah in the mall shooting, agreed that Mensah posed a risk.
The officer's attorney, Jon Cermele, filed documents with the commission arguing that state law doesn't allow the panel to fire an officer because of something that might occur in the future. Terminating him would create an “illogical and artificial rule” that officers can use deadly force a certain number of times.
Kimberley Motley, an attorney representing the families of all three people Mensah fatally shot, argued to the commission that the decision not to charge him criminally doesn't protect him from termination. She said the panel should conclude that Mensah must be fired for the good of the police department.
Mensah shot and killed Antonio Gonzales in 2015 after Gonzales refused to drop a sword. A year later he shot and killed Jay Anderson Jr. Mensah found Anderson sitting in a parked car in a city park after hours. He said he saw a gun in the car and thought Anderson was reaching for it so he opened fire.
City leaders noted in their statement Tuesday "several steps" taken over the past few months "towards creating more equity" -- work that is ongoing:
- Training for city employees on implicit bias, Milwaukee's history and racial disparities, and for supervisors on ways to ensure a more equitable workplace, as well as stopping implicit biases from impacting hiring decisions.
- Adopting the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC)'s pledge to "Make Milwaukee a Region of Choice." As part of this pledge, the city is to increase diverse management by 25% and diverse employment by 15% by 2025. Wauwatosa was the first municipality to join this effort.
- Banning chokeholds and carotid restraints on August 4, 2020.
- Posting police policies on the city's website to enhance transparency.
- Creating an online complaint and commendation form for members of the public to submit comment about the Police Department without reporting to the Police Department building to do so.
- Purchasing body-worn cameras for the Wauwatosa Police Department.
- Hosting three community conversations in partnership with the Zeidler Group to hear from community stakeholders about how to build greater equity in Wauwatosa.
- Dedicating a focus area to the next Wauwatosa strategic plan about equity.
The next step is a meeting by the Wauwatosa Committee of the Whole on Dec. 15 "to begin an anticipated three-month discussion on the equity focus in the next strategic plan."