A former police officer in Wauwatosa, Wis., who shot and killed three people during his tenure and resigned following protests last year, became a law enforcement officer again on Monday when he was sworn in as a deputy sheriff just across the county line.
The deputy, Joseph Mensah, resigned from the Wauwatosa Police Department in November. He now works for the Waukesha County Sheriff’s Office, which announced the hiring in a statement on Tuesday.
“While some have expressed concerns about Mr. Mensah’s past uses of force, I assembled a team who exhaustively reviewed Mr. Mensah’s previous work history,” the Waukesha County sheriff, Eric Severson, said in the statement.
That team, he said, concluded that Mr. Mensah’s uses of force had been consistent with the law, as did a handful of internal and independent investigations last year.
When Tracy Cole of Milwaukee heard the news, her heart sank. Last year, Mr. Mensah shot and killed her son, Alvin Cole, who would have turned 18 last week. “It’s just a slap in my face, and my family’s face,” said Ms. Cole, 49. “I just want to see justice, for once.”
Mr. Mensah, a Black officer who joined the Wauwatosa department in 2015, shot Mr. Cole, an armed Black teenager, in a mall parking lot on Feb. 2. In October, John Chisholm, the Milwaukee district attorney, said he would not prosecute Mr. Mensah for the shooting. He said officers had reported that Mr. Cole pointed a gun at them at one point and that he had fired the gun while running away.
The episode brought additional scrutiny into Mr. Mensah’s two previous fatal shootings. In 2016, he shot a man named Jay Anderson Jr. in his car after he said Mr. Anderson reached for a gun. In 2015, Mr. Mensah and another officer fatally shot Antonio Gonzalez, who was wielding a sword when he was confronted by the police.
Mr. Chisholm’s decision came on the same day that an independent investigator issued a report recommending that Mr. Mensah be fired. The investigator, Steven M. Biskupic, said in his report that Mr. Mensah had made “inconsistent and misleading” statements about fatal shootings.
In the case of Mr. Cole’s shooting, Mr. Biskupic said that Mr. Cole had not fired at police officers during the pursuit and had accidentally shot himself in the arm.
Mr. Mensah was suspended with pay in July. He agreed to resign on Nov. 30 as part of a “separation agreement” with the Wauwatosa Peace Officers Association, the police union, and the Common Council, the governing body of Wauwatosa, which is a suburb of Milwaukee.
According to a copy of that agreement, the city agreed to give Mr. Mensah 13 months’ pay in severance and an additional $15,000 and part of his health insurance costs.
On Wednesday, a spokesman for the Waukesha County Sheriff’s Office did not respond to a request for comment. In an interview with WISN 12, the local ABC News affiliate, Sheriff Severson said that he had not solicited an application from Mr. Mensah and that he had reviewed Mr. Mensah’s record carefully.
“If my family needs a police officer, I hope Joseph Mensah is the first one at my door,” he added. “That’s how confident I am in his ability.”
Kimberley Motley, a lawyer for the Cole family, said the hire was “disrespectful to the mourning families.”
“I think this was clearly an emotionally charged decision, as opposed to an intelligent decision,” she added. “The amount of legal liability has widened in Waukesha County.”
Barry M. Weber, the chief of the Wauwatosa Police Department, signed a letter of recommendation for Mr. Mensah. On Wednesday, the department shared that letter on Twitter.
“He proved himself to be an excellent police officer,” said the letter, which was dated Dec. 23. It added that Mr. Mensah was “an articulate, thoughtful and intelligent man” who had been “placed in some difficult situations and responded in a thoughtful and professional manner.”
Phone and email contacts for Mr. Mensah could not be found, and a lawyer who has represented him did not respond to inquiries by phone and email on Wednesday.
In a radio interview with Dan O’Donnell of WISN in Milwaukee in July, two months after George Floyd had died at the hands of the Minneapolis police, Mr. Mensah said protesters had approached his property and confronted his family members. And he questioned why protests had erupted in 2020 even though two of his fatal shootings took place years earlier.
“I feel for those families,” he added. “It was not my intention to go out there and kill their loved ones.”
Ms. Cole said that she had feared for her family since her son died. She and her daughters have participated in demonstrations calling for Mr. Mensah to be prosecuted, and two of her daughters have been arrested. She said that on Oct. 8, she was stopped in her car by police officers who were enforcing a curfew intended to quash protests.
In video of the stop that was posted on Facebook, she can be heard saying, “Don’t touch me,” and identifying herself as Alvin Cole’s mother as officers threaten to arrest her and use a Taser on her. “I can’t breathe,” she can be heard saying. “I can’t believe you all did this to me.”
On Wednesday, Ms. Cole said that the injuries she sustained on that day had not healed and that learning about Mr. Mensah’s position with the sheriff’s department added insult to those injuries.
“We cry every night,” Ms. Cole said. “When is it going to stop? We need change. We need police to be accountable for what they do.”
Maria Cramer contributed reporting.
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