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Judge picks prosecutors to decide charges against officer

This undated photo provided by the Wauwatosa Police Department in Wauwatosa shows the Wauwatosa Police Officer Joseph Mensah. In a report released on Oct. 7, 2020, an independent investigator recommended officials in the Milwaukee suburb fire Mensah, who has shot and killed three people in the last five years. (Gary Monreal/Monreal Photography LLC/Wauwatosa Police Department via AP)

Former Wauwatosa Police Officer Joseph Mensah (Gary Monreal/Monreal Photography LLC/Wauwatosa Police Department via AP)

By TODD RICHMOND
Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A business attorney and a western Wisconsin prosecutor will decide whether to file charges against a former police officer who killed a man in a suburban Milwaukee park five years ago, a judge announced Wednesday.

Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Glenn Yamahiro said during a hearing he has selected attorney Scott Hansen and La Crosse County District Attorney Tim Gruenke to serve as special prosecutors in former Wauwatosa Officer Joseph Mensah’s case. Mensah shot and killed Jay Anderson Jr. after discovering him sleeping in a park after hours in June 2016. Mensah said Anderson was reaching for a gun.

Anderson was one of three people Mensah killed during a five-year stint at the Wauwatosa Police Department. Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm’s office chose not to charge him with criminal wrongdoing in any of the deaths.

But Anderson’s family’s attorney used a John Doe proceeding, a little-known Wisconsin legal maneuver similar to a grand jury inquiry, to persuade Yamahiro in July that there was probable cause to support charges against Mensah in Anderson’s death and to convince him to appoint special prosecutors to decide whether to file any counts.

Yamahiro said he wanted special prosecutors with reputations for “honesty and integrity” and found them in Hansen and Gruenke. He especially wanted someone who wasn’t a career prosecutor who could give the case a “fresh look,” he said.

“These are not a couple of guys with big egos,” Yamahiro said. “They are people who focus on the facts, on the law, and understanding the total situation and I’m comfortable that’s what they’re going to do in this case.”

Hansen works for the Reinhart Boerner Van Deuren law firm in Milwaukee. According to the firm’s website, he focuses primarily on business disputes and commercial law. The Milwaukee Bar Association named him Lawyer of the Year in 2018. He holds law and economics degrees from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Yamahiro said Hansen will be paid $40 an hour and $50 for every hour spent in court.

Gruenke, a Democrat, has been a prosecutor for 25 years and the district attorney in La Crosse for 13 years. Yamahiro said he was named prosecutor of the year twice by the Wisconsin Association of Homicide Investigators. The judge did not indicate whether Gruenke would receive any additional compensation beyond his state salary for working on the Mensah case. State Department of Administration officials didn’t immediately respond to messages.

Anderson’s family’s attorney, Kimberley Motley, said she’s impressed with Hansen and Gruenke’s credentials and she’s “cautiously optimistic” they’ll find their way to charging Mensah.

“We believe they should come to the same conclusion we did, that Joseph Mensah should be criminally charged,” she said. “We’ll see what happens.”

Mensah’s attorney, Jonathan Cermele, didn’t immediately return a message left at his office.

Mensah joined the Wauwatosa department in 2015. That year he fatally shot Antonio Gonzales. Prosecutors said Gonzales refused to drop a sword. The following year he shot Anderson in the park. Last year he fatally shot 17-year-old Alvin Cole as he fled from police following a disturbance in a mall. Mensah said Cole pointed a gun at him. That shooting sparked months of protests.

Mensah is Black. Gonzales identified as American Indian. Anderson and Cole were Black.

Mensah resigned from the Wauwatosa department in November 2020 and joined the Waukesha County Sheriff’s Department.

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