Wisconsin's governor on Wednesday called in the National Guard ahead of an expected announcement about whether a police officer would face charges in the fatal shooting of a Black teenager in February.
Gov. Tony Evers said in a news release that he activated the National Guard to help police protect the public and infrastructure in the Milwaukee suburb of Wauwatosa. He didn't say how many troops were being sent to the city, citing security reasons.
The Milwaukee County district attorney was expected to announce later Wednesday whether Wauwatosa police Officer Joseph Mensah would be charged in the shooting death of 17-year-old Alvin Cole outside of a mall last February. Mensah, who is Black, was one of the officers who responded to a call from mall security about a man who was seen with a gun in the building. Police said Cole ran from officers and fired a handgun before Mensah shot him. Cole’s family disputes that he fired the gun and has called for Mensah to be fired.
Evers also activated the state’s National Guard in August, the morning after a Kenosha police officer shot Jacob Blake, a Black man, in the back. The shooting sparked three days of protests over police actions and racism, and caused an estimated $50 million in damage to roughly 100 downtown businesses. Evers took harsh criticism for moving too slowly. Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz also activated Guard members after George Floyd’s death in police custody in Minneapolis set off protests and damaging riots and arson in that state.
Asked during a video conference with reporters Wednesday whether his decision to mobilize the National Guard in Wauwatosa meant that Mensah wouldn't be charged, Evers said he didn’t know what the decision would be but that the presence of the Guard would ensure that people can protest peacefully.
Cole was the third person in the past five years who was shot and killed by Mensah, who was cleared of wrongdoing in the two previous shootings. In 2015, Mensah shot Antonio Gonzales eight times after he refused to drop a sword, according to police. The following year, Mensah approached a parked car where Jay Anderson Jr. was sleeping and said he saw a gun inside and thought Anderson was reaching for it so he shot him six times.
Cole’s death sparked protests in Wauwatosa throughout the summer, including in and around the mall, and the Wauwatosa Police and Fire Commission asked former U.S. Attorney Steven Biskupic to conduct an independent investigation into whether Mensah should be disciplined.
The Cole family attorney, Kimberly Motley, provided Biskupic’s recommendations to The Associated Press earlier Wednesday. In them, Biskupic wrote that he thought Mensah should be fired because the risk of him shooting someone else was too great. Given Mensah's notoriety, people could bait him into shooting them, exposing the city to lawsuits costing millions of dollars, Biskupic wrote. He noted that even one officer-involved shooting in a city the size of Wauwatosa is unusual. The city is home to about 48,000 people.
“If a fourth shooting by Officer Mensah were to take place, the public's confidence in the Wauwatosa Police Department would be significantly eroded,” Biskupic wrote.
He also noted that Mensah violated policies preventing officers from speaking about pending investigations when he gave a radio interview and spoke about the shooting on a podcast in July.
He also provided misleading information during the interviews by failing to correct an interviewer who stated that Cole shot at Mensah — Biskupic's report said Cole shot himself in the arm — and claiming that more than half-a-dozen Wauwatosa officers had been involved in multiple shootings over the last five years. According to Biskupic's report, the Wauwatosa police chief said only Mensah had fired his weapon more than once over the last five years.
Biskupic concluded that Mensah provided misleading information to the public to minimize the significance of his conduct.
The Cole family's attorney, Motley, said the family was expected to meet with the prosecutor's office Wednesday afternoon. The imminent decision led local officials to shut down City Hall and the library for about three days in anticipation of possible protests.
James Palmer, who heads the state's largest police union, the Wisconsin Professional Police Association, said Wauwatosa officers have their own union but called Biskupic's conclusions “preposterous.”
He said no one can predict whether Mensah will get into another shooting and that he's never heard of any Wisconsin officer getting fired for breaking policies prohibiting them from talking about pending investigations.
“Biskupic's conclusions are meant to appease some segments of the community,” Palmer said. “The fact that it’s coming out on the same day the district attorney is expected to make (a charging) announcement is telling.”