MADISON, Wis. — A Black Wisconsin police officer who fatally shot a Black teenager outside a suburban Milwaukee mall in February won't be charged because he had reasonable belief that deadly force was necessary, a prosecutor said Wednesday.
Wauwatosa Officer Joseph Mensah shot 17-year-old Alvin Cole outside Mayfair Mall on Feb. 2 after police responded to a reported disturbance at the shopping center.
Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm, in a 14-page letter laying out his rationale, said evidence showed Cole fled from police carrying a stolen 9 mm handgun. He cited squad car audio evidence, along with testimony from Mensah and two fellow officers, that he said showed Cole had fired a shot while fleeing and refused commands to drop the gun.
“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.”
Cole was the third person Mensah has fatally shot since becoming an officer, and his death has sparked periodic protests in Wauwatosa and the Milwaukee area. Gov. Tony Evers announced earlier Wednesday 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, marching peacefully in the city.
Late Wednesday evening and well past the curfew, a group of a few hundred 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.
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WISN-TV reported windows broken at several 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!”
Chisholm's report noted that Cole's gun had a spent round in the chamber — the one that investigators believe he fired while running, possibly striking himself in the arm — and that the magazine was recovered in his sling bag, meaning the gun had no more bullets in it when he was shot. Mensah and two other officers at the scene said Cole pointed the gun at them.
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.
“The fight continues. It doesn’t end here,” said his sister, Taleavia Cole. ”... It’s time for DA Chisholm to retire or step down.
Chisholm also said that he didn’t believe the state had enough evidence to disprove that Mensah was defending himself or others, so he couldn’t meet the burden required to bring charges. Kimberley Motley, a family attorney for the Coles, seized on Chisholm’s wording.
“Chisholm did not say that the shooting was justified,” Motley said. “And that’s really important.”
Motley, who also represents the families of the two other people killed by Mensah, said if he had been fired earlier then Cole would still be alive.
“We are not done fighting,” she said. “We are still going to fight for a conviction of Officer Joseph Mensah.”