A federal lawsuit has been filed against the city of Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, alleging that a former officer used excessive force, resulting in the death of a minor. The officer in question has a history of shooting civilians to death. Three men have died as a result of being shot by this cop in the last five years.
Tracy and Albert Cole, the parents of Alvin Cole, the most recent person shot and killed by the former Wauwatosa Police Department officer on Feb. 2, 2020, at the Mayfair mall, 2500 North Mayfair Road, Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, filed an excessive force lawsuit on behalf of the boy on Thursday, July 28.
It also claims that the officers violated the boy’s 14th Amendment civil rights by failing to provide him with equal protection from harm and failing to train them properly to handle stressful altercations with civilians, resulting in the loss of life.
The complaint, according to Atlanta Black Star, names the city, the former officer, Joseph Mensah, the force’s ex-chief, Barry Weber, and two insurance companies as defendants.
Kimberley Motley, the estate’s attorney, is asking the court to award her clients unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, claiming that under Weber’s leadership, the department underprepared officers to operate in a law enforcement capacity. In addition to criticizing the training, the report claims that the former chief did not adequately supervise or discipline officers who violated department protocol or policy.
According to her, these facts made filing a civil claim critical.
“We believe that these lawsuits are very important to ensure that Joseph Mensah, former police chief Barry Weber, and the city of Wauwatosa are all held accountable for Alvin Cole’s death,” Motley said.
“This is an important step toward fighting for accountability, fighting for Alvin Cole’s family’s rights, and fighting for his right to live,” she added.
Motley refers to Mensah in the court document as “one of the deadliest police officers in American history,” who “killed three young men of color in three separate incidents” during his first four years and seven months on the job, between July 16, 2015, and February 2, 2020.
She specifically mentioned Jay Anderson Jr. (deceased in 2016) and Antonio Gonzales (deceased in 2015), two other men fatally shot by Mensah, emphasizing a pattern within the WPD of violating the civil rights of people they serve based on their skin color.
The lawsuit “tells the story of Joseph Mensah’s third victim and a culture of policing in Wauwatosa that championed his indifference for life, callousness towards killing, and racially discriminatory policing towards Black people,” and contends that the department did not conduct thorough background checks or psychological evaluations to determine whether an officer is fit to serve or “deal with high-stress situations.”
She claims Mensah was not, but there were no systems in place to make that determination.
Motley’s lawsuit details incidents of overt racial bias from 1919 to the present, claiming that as recently as the summer of 2020, “documents from ‘Whites of Wauwatosa’ were distributed stating that “Together we can keep Wauwatosa white.” We can keep Wauwatosa safe if we work together.”
In a prepared statement, Wauwatosa Mayor Dennis McBride stated that the presiding judge will review the evidence and rule in favor of the city.
“The incident that gave rise to this lawsuit was traumatic,” McBride wrote. “However, we believe this case will be decided for the City based on all of the facts of the case, which have been stated in numerous investigations, and on the fact that we’ve received favorable outcomes in related civil lawsuits.”
Mensah, who is Black like his victims, has never been charged criminally for any of the aforementioned deaths (including Cole’s). Following an investigation into the deaths, District Attorney John Chisholm stated that the officer shot the young men in self-defense.
Nonetheless, an independent investigator reviewing the same data recommended Mensah be fired following Cole’s death.
Though the officer received no harsh departmental discipline for the shootings, he was placed on administrative leave at times, and he left the WPD to work as a detective for the Waukesha County Sheriff’s Department. He joined the agency almost a year after Cole’s death, in January 2021.
Mensah was dispatched to the mall on the day Cole was shot after a report that people were arguing in the shopping center. Other officers and mall security guards were pursuing Cole and other suspects when he arrived.
Officers Shamsi, Schleis, Johnson, and Olson are named as witnesses in the lawsuit, claiming they were present for the entire chase that spanned the Mayfair mall parking lot.
“Cole, who exited the mall from the east end through Nordstrom’s, was pursued by police and ran over a third of a mile towards the parking lot south of the Cheesecake Factory,” according to the filing.
It was also stated that the teen accidentally shot himself in the forearm while running near the Cheesecake Factory. When cops told him to drop the gun, he allegedly fell to his knees and dropped it.
According to Motley’s account, officers Olson and Shamsi gave Cole contradictory orders to “drop his gun” and “throw his gun.”
Despite the confusion, the lawsuit claims that two officers on the scene “controlled the situation, knowing that use of deadly force was not warranted.”
The two officers stood over him once he was kneeling. Olson was to Cole’s right, and Shamsi was to his back.
Mensah allegedly ran over to the three, asked no questions, and then opened fire on the boy, shooting him five times. He was kneeling twice and lying on the ground three times.
Evidence will also show that one of his fellow officers yelled at him to stop, but it was too late.
Between Cole’s accidental self-inflicted shot, which emptied his gun, and Mensah’s shots, a total of 10 seconds passed. According to the lawyer, “the first gunshot can be heard at 1:22 [on a recording], while the subsequent shots can be heard at 1:32.”
According to a report released by a former US Attorney, none of the other officers fired their weapons. It also revealed that Cole had a stolen gun, which had been broken by the time Mensah shot him. The officers were also unaware that the teen’s weapon was inoperable, according to the federal lawyer.
There is some disagreement about whether Cole still had the gun in his hand. The lawyer claims he did not, but the United States Attorney claims it was still in his hand when he was killed.
Wauwatosa police did not use body cameras during the shooting, making the puzzle difficult to piece together. Parts of it, including the sound of gunfire, were captured on dashboard cameras.
The majority of the evidence in the shooting will be testimony, as well as splattered footage and audio captured from the dashboard cameras in the officer’s patrol vehicle. Those cameras captured both the gunshots that injured the boy and the one that killed him.
Outside of possessing an illegal firearm, it was never determined whether Cole had committed a crime.
Cole was 17 years old when he died.