Wauwatosa locks down in fear of Black Lives Matter backlash

The Wisconsin city of Wauwatosa is hunkering down as it awaits an impending announcement Wednesday from the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office on whether to file criminal charges against Police Officer Joseph Mensah.

The officer shot and killed 17-year-old Alvin Cole in the parking lot of Mayfair Mall on Feb. 2. Mensah was put on paid administrative leave with pay following the shooting.

Wauwatosa police said Cole ran from officers and fired a handgun first before he was shot by Mensah. The officer has been involved in three fatal shootings in five years. The district attorney’s office ruled the two previous fatal shootings were justified as self defense.

The Wauwatosa City Hall will close at noon on Wednesday, Oct. 7, and will remain closed through Friday, Oct. 9. Municipal court has also been canceled.

The Wauwatosa Public Library will close early Wednesday and the Wauwatosa School District is moving to virtual instruction ahead of the announcement.

The district announced in a letter to families Tuesday that classes will be shifted to a virtual learning model for the remainder of the week “to proactively err on the side of caution” following the decision. The district says the usual hybrid schedule will resume on Monday, Oct. 12.

Several businesses in downtown Wauwatosa, near 65th Street and North Avenue, started boarding up on Tuesday and businesses at Mayfair Mall will close early Wednesday, including Cheesecake Factory, which will shut down at 3 p.m.

On July 15, the Wauwatosa Police and Fire Commission suspended Mensah based on a complaint by the family of Jay Anderson, who was fatally shot by Mensah in 2016.

The family’s attorneys argued the case violated law enforcement code, which should result in Mensah’s firing. Mensah has since appealed that suspension.

Mensah and a second officer were cleared in late 2015 for the fatal shooting of Antonio Gonzalez, 29, earlier that year on July 16. He was shot after police said he refused to drop a sword.

Less than a year later, on June 23, 2016, Jay Anderson was fatally shot in Madison Park in Wauwatosa by Mensah. Police said Anderson had a gun in his possession in the park and Mensah feared for his safety. About six months later, the district attorney announced no charges would be filed against Mensah.

Black Lives Matter protests have been rocking the city since summer and city officials are preparing for the possibility that protesters may react to the Wednesday announcement in a manner which may pose risk to life and property.

“We understand that emotions are going to run high and that people are going to want to protest,” said Wauwatosa Mayor Dennis McBride. “We understand people will be protesting, that’s fine. People have the right to do that. We just don’t want emotions to run so high that people will do things that they’ll regret.”

“We just want to make sure people remain peaceful,” said McBride. “We expect unrest, and we have plans in place to deal in an appropriate fashion, commensurate with whatever level of protests happen.”

McBride said he’s been in contact with Governor Tony Evers’ office, neighboring police departments and the Wauwatosa Police Department.

“They are fully prepared to deal with any level of unrest that may occur,” said McBride.

Attorneys for Cole’s family dispute the police account of the Feb. 2 shooting. They say they have video evidence and witness statements that prove that the police version of events is not true. The Cole family acknowledges he had a gun but says he didn’t point it at Mensah and it was not loaded.

Kimberly Motley, attorney for Cole’s family, will be meeting with the district attorney Wednesday afternoon. “I think no matter what the decision that D.A. Chisholm makes tomorrow, no one wins,” said Motley.

“From our perspective, he never pointed his weapon at Officer Mensah,” said Motley. “There was no bullets in it. There was no magazine in it. Who points an empty gun? We believe Officer Mensah shooting and killing Alvin Cole was not justified.”