A black police officer in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, will not face criminal charges in the shooting death of a 17-year-old in February outside a suburban Milwaukee mall, the prosecutor reviewing the case said Wednesday he had a reasonable belief that deadly force was necessary, Associated Press reports.
Officer Joseph Mensah shot teenager Alvin Cole after evidence showed Cole fled from police carrying a stolen 9 mm handgun.
In the letter, Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm cited squad car audio evidence, along with testimony from Mensah and two fellow officers, that showed Cole had fired a shot while fleeing and refused commands to drop the gun but instead he pointed it in their direction. Mensah fired five rounds, killing Cole.
“He did not surrender the weapon and was fired upon by Officer Mensah causing his death,” Chisholm wrote. He concluded: “(T)here is sufficient evidence that Officer Mensah had an actual subjective belief that deadly force was necessary and that belief was objectively reasonable.”
After the shooting, a photo of Cole holding a semi-automatic pistol with an extended magazine appeared on Facebook. Cole was too young to legally own a firearm and had juvenile felony convictions which also rendered him not allowed to legally possess a gun, Chisholm’s letter said.
“The consequences for illegal gun possession are significant and may have contributed to Mr. Cole’s flight from police,” Chisholm wrote.
Cole was the third person Mensah has fatally shot in five years, the district attorney’s decision to not file charges against Cole a third time sparked protests on Wednesday night in Wauwatosa and the Milwaukee area. Governor Tony Evers announced earlier in the day that he had activated National Guard members as a precaution, though he didn’t say how many or how they were being used. Guard spokesman Maj. Joe Trovato later said “hundreds” of troops were at the ready.
The city of Wauwatosa issued a nightly 7 p.m. curfew after Chisholm’s decision was announced, to run until next Monday. Many people ignored the curfew.
Later in the evening and well past the curfew, protesters confronted a police line. Police said some in the group were throwing rocks at law enforcement and buildings and that they used tear gas to disperse the protesters. Footage posted on social media showed the gas and the crowd retreating, Associated Press reports.
— Julio Rosas (@Julio_Rosas11) October 8, 2020
WISN-TV reported windows broken at businesses on the city’s north side, including a pharmacy, coffee shop, wall coverings store, cleaners and fitness center.
Scores of people surrounded the Milwaukee County Public Safety Building as Cole’s attorney and family members met with Chisholm, some chanting, “Say his name! Alvin Cole!” and “Justice! When do we want it? Now!”
“Unbeknownst to the officers (and likely Cole himself), Cole’s firearm had become inoperable because the magazine was not attached and the bullet in the chamber had been fired. Investigators believe he fired while running, possibly striking himself in the arm. Cole did not drop the weapon,” the letter said.
Cole’s sister, Taleavia Cole, insisted the shooting wasn’t justified because her brother could not have fired at Mensah. She said he should not be allowed to continue working as an officer.
Chisholm told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in an interview that he understood some people would be angry or disappointed by his decision, but he said he wouldn’t change his “objective review” because of it. He said that although Mensah had been cleared in all three of his shootings, Chisholm was concerned about his involvement in so many.
“This creates an incredible dilemma for the city of Wauwatosa and the Wauwatosa Police Department and the community,” he told the newspaper. “I’ve never been cavalier about that.”… What is unique about this case is that it just creates such a liability for (shooting) number four. Everybody recognizes that.”
Mensah was suspended — with pay — July 15, after a unanimous vote by the Wauwatosa Police and Fire Commission.