MADISON, Wis. (AP) — An attorney representing the families of three people who died at the hands of a former Wisconsin police officer filed another federal lawsuit against him Wednesday, saying his department taught him to view Black people as dangerous.
The lawsuit alleges that former Wauwatosa Police Officer Joseph Mensah violated Jay Anderson’s constitutional rights when he fatally shot Anderson after discovering him sleeping in a park after hours in 2016. According to the lawsuit, Anderson followed all of Mensah’s commands but Mensah still considered him a threat because he was Black.
Mensah, who is Black, said Anderson was reaching for a gun, and a county prosecutor declined to bring charges in the case.
The lawsuit alleges Wauwatosa and its police department have a history of racist officers dating back decades, pointing to police parties in the late 1980s and late 1990s where officers dressed in blackface and Ku Klux Klan literature was present but officers were never disciplined. The lawsuit also asserts that the city is 95% white but Black people made up 83% of arrests in 2018.
“Mensah, having learned the lessons of a police department rife with racism and racial discrimination, immediately decided that a Black man sleeping in his car was suspicious and dangerous,” attorney Kimberley Motley wrote in the lawsuit. “The WPD devalues people of color which is reflective in their over policing of Black people.”
The filing seeks unspecified damages from Mensah, the city, and former Wauwatosa Police Chief Barry Weber. Online court records did not list attorneys for Mensah or Weber. Wauwatosa City Attorney Alan Kesner didn’t immediately respond to a message Wednesday morning.
Mensah joined the Wauwatosa Police Department in 2015. That year he fatally shot Antonio Gonzales, who identified as Latino and American Indian. Prosecutors said Gonzales refused to drop a sword.
The following year he discovered Anderson sleeping in his car in a park around 3 a.m. He said he shot Anderson because Anderson reached for a gun on the passenger seat. Motley contends that Anderson never touched the gun.
Last year, Mensah fatally shot 17-year-old Alvin Cole as he fled from police following a disturbance in a mall. Cole was Black. Mensah said he shot him because he pointed a gun at him. That shooting sparked months of protests.
Prosecutors chose not to file charges against Mensah in any of the shootings. Motley filed a federal lawsuit against Mensah on behalf of Gonzales’ family in July. She’s mulling filing one in Cole’s death as well.
Motley also used a John Doe proceeding, a little-known Wisconsin legal maneuver similar to a grand jury inquiry, to persuade Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Glenn Yamahiro to order a special prosecutor to consider charging Mensah in the Anderson case. The judge is expected to make the appointment this month.
Mensah resigned from the Wauwatosa Police Department in November 2020 and joined the Waukesha County Sheriff’s Department.