Jay Anderson Jr. was asleep in a parked car in 2016 when police officer Joseph Mensah approached to ask him what he was doing. Anderson, who was intoxicated, was slow to reply and struggled to follow the officer’s orders as he was waking up. Instead of waiting for backup to arrive and assist with the situation, Mensah escalated the encounter and fatally shot the young man.
Charges were never filed, and the case was initially closed, but now, five years later, Milwaukee County Judge Glenn Yamahiro has re-examined the incident that night and believes there is probable cause to charge Mensah for Anderson’s death.
Scott Bauer and Todd Richmond of the Associated Press reported that Yamahiro’s decision is rare and somewhat unheard of since he is now, in effect, overruling prosecutors years after they declined to charge the officer.
According to AP, “Yamahiro said probable cause existed to charge Joseph Mensah with homicide by negligent use of a weapon in Jay Anderson Jr.’s death. He will [now] appoint a special prosecutor in 60 days, who will then determine whether to file charges.”
The decision is a major victory for Anderson’s family, who had been fighting for justice for Jay’s death for years. Bauer and Richmond reported that by taking advantage of a little-used provision in state law, the family was able to ask the judge for a second look at the case.
Anderson’s family was in the courtroom when the judge announced his decision. According to the family’s attorney, Kimberly Motley, the family was overcome with relief, satisfaction and sadness.
“It’s bittersweet in a way,” Motley said. “You can’t just be completely happy about it because Jay Anderson Jr. is not here. But it definitely gives validation to the family’s fight for over five years.”
Bauer and Richmond reported that “Mensah, who is also Black, discovered the 25-year-old Anderson sleeping in his car at 3 a.m. in a park in Wauwatosa, a Milwaukee suburb. Mensah said he shot Anderson after Anderson reached for a gun, but Anderson’s family disputes that, and the judge on Wednesday said the evidence did not back up Mensah’s version of events.”
Motley reflected on the details of the case presented to the judge and told reporters, “I can’t see any lawyer not criminally charging Joseph Mensah.”
The AP reported that Anderson was one of three people Mensah shot and killed during his five-year career with the Wauwatosa Police Department. In each case, prosecutors cleared him of any criminal wrongdoing.
In addition to Anderson, Mensah fatally shot Antonio Gonzales, a Latino and American Indian man, during an encounter when the officer said Gonzales “refused” to drop a sword he was holding.
The third person Mensah killed was 17-year-old Alvin Cole, who was fleeing from police during a disturbance at a local mall in 2020. Cole’s death set off months of protests in and around Milwaukee following District Attorney John Chisholm’s decision to not charge Mensah in the case.
“Anderson’s family asked Yamahiro to review that case under an obscure state law that allows judges to directly question witnesses and decide whether probable cause exists to bring charges in what’s known as a John Doe proceeding,” Bauer and Richmond said. “At least six other states have similar statutory provisions, but attorneys say the process is rarely used in Wisconsin.”
While announcing his decision in the case, Yamahiro said the charge against Mensah was warranted because the officer should have known that “pulling his weapon on Anderson created an unreasonable risk of death.”
Yamahiro said instead of drawing his weapon, Mensah should have “taken steps to de-escalate the situation, including waiting for backup that was on the way.”
While Mensah claimed that Anderson was pretending to be asleep and that he lunged for the officer’s weapon, the judge instead said that the man’s behavior “was consistent with someone who was intoxicated, had been asleep and was trying, but having difficulty, complying with Mensah’s orders.”
Following the shooting of Cole in 2020, Mensah resigned from the Wauwatosa Police Department, collected a $130,000 severance payment, and is now working as a deputy in nearby Waukesha County.
“Kimberly Motley, the Anderson family’s attorney, also represents the Gonzales and Cole families,” Bauer and Richmond reported. “She said she is considering invoking the John Doe process for them [as well].”