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Decision Not to Charge Wisconsin Officer in Fatal Shooting Draws Protests

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The Milwaukee district attorney said Wednesday that he would not prosecute a Wisconsin police officer who fatally shot an armed Black teenager in a mall parking lot in February, setting off renewed protests over the killing.

Joseph Mensah, a Black police officer in the Wauwatosa Police Department, shot the teenager, Alvin Cole, 17, on Feb. 2 after he refused to put down a firearm and ran away from the police following a confrontation at the Mayfair Mall, John Chisholm, the Milwaukee district attorney, said on Wednesday. He said officers reported that Mr. Cole had pointed the gun at them at one point, and that he had fired the gun while running away.

“In this case, there is sufficient evidence that Officer Mensah had an actual subjective belief that deadly force was necessary and that belief was objectively reasonable,” Mr. Chisholm said in a 14-page letter detailing his findings to the city’s police chief, Barry Weber. “I do not believe that the state could disprove self-defense or defense of others in this case and therefore could not meet the burden required to charge Officer Mensah.”

It was the third time in five years that prosecutors decided not to file charges against Officer Mensah for fatally shooting someone, and the district attorney’s decision drew protests on Wednesday night, with many demonstrators ignoring a 7 p.m. curfew. Later that night, the police said that a group of protesters threw rocks at law enforcement officials, and that officers used tear gas to dispel the crowds.

“What started as a protest has become a large disturbance of public order that has caused property damage, and is threatening to cause injury to persons,” the police said on Twitter. The department said it had “ordered dispersal” and had “not obtained compliance.”

Just as demonstrations against racism and police violence have broken out around the country for months, there have been periodic protests over police killings around Wauwatosa, a city of about 48,000 people five miles west of Milwaukee.

The demonstrations have been peaceful, with protesters marching down the streets of the city’s downtown in the pouring rain and chanting the names of other people shot by Officer Mensah. In 2016, he shot a man named Jay Anderson Jr. in his car after he said Mr. Anderson reached for a gun. In 2015, Officer Mensah and another officer fatally shot Antonio Gonzalez, who was wielding a sword when he was confronted by the police.

ImageOfficer Joseph Mensah.
Credit…Gary Monreal/Monreal Photography Llc/Wauwatosa Police Department, via Associated Press

Mr. Chisholm’s decision came on the same day an independent investigator issued a 44-page report that recommended Officer Mensah be fired. The investigator, Steven M. Biskupic, said in his report that Officer Mensah had made “inconsistent and misleading” statements about the shootings and “acted in violation of use of deadly force rules” in the killing of Mr. Anderson.

Mr. Biskupic said there was evidence that Mr. Anderson was not reaching for a gun but was actually sleeping or passed out in his car when Officer Mensah approached the vehicle.

Reviews of Mr. Gonzalez’s case found Officer Mensah acted properly on the scene, but Mr. Biskupic noted he turned off his squad car camera as he responded to the call.

Keeping Officer Mensah on the force would create “an extraordinary, unwarranted and unnecessary risk” to the department and the city, Mr. Biskupic, a former federal prosecutor, said.

Michael Levenson contributed reporting.

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