MADISON, Wis. — A Wisconsin judge on Wednesday found probable cause to charge a police officer in the 2016 slaying of a Black man who was sitting in a parked car, taking the rare step of overruling prosecutors years after they declined to charge the officer.
Milwaukee County Judge Glenn Yamahiro said probable cause existed to charge Joseph Mensah with homicide by negligent use of a weapon in Jay Anderson Jr.’s death. He will appoint a special prosecutor in 60 days, who will then determine whether to file charges.
Yamahiro’s decision marks a victory for Anderson’s family, who took advantage of a little-used provision in state law to ask the judge for a second look at the case.
Anderson family members who were in the courtroom cried as the judge announced his decision. Their attorney, Kimberly Motley, said the family was overcome with joy, sadness and satisfaction.
“It’s bittersweet in a way,” Motley said. “You can’t just be completely happy about it because Jay Anderson Jr. is not here. But it definitely gives validation to the family’s fight for over five years.”
Mensah, who is also Black, discovered the 25-year-old Anderson sleeping in his car at 3 a.m. in a park in Wauwatosa, a Milwaukee suburb. Mensah said he shot Anderson after Anderson reached for a gun, but Anderson’s family disputes that and the judge on Wednesday said the evidence did not back up Mensah’s version of events.
Mensah’s attorney Jonathan Cermele criticized the decision and said Yamahiro heard evidence “from one side and one side only.”
It will be up to the special prosecutor to decide whether to file charges, said Motley, the Anderson family attorney. But she was confident that the evidence and record created by the judge is clear.
Anderson was the second of three people Mensah shot to death during a five-year stint with the Wauwatosa Police Department. Prosecutors cleared him of criminal wrongdoing in each case.
Anderson’s family asked Yamahiro to review that case under an obscure state law that allows judges to directly question witnesses and decide whether probable cause exists to bring charges in what’s known as a John Doe proceeding. At least six other states have similar statutory provisions, but attorneys say the process is rarely used in Wisconsin.
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