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Protests follow after officer is cleared in killing of Black teen outside Milwaukee

Protesters march in Wauwatosa, Wis., late Wednesday.
Protesters in Wauwatosa, Wis., march late Wednesday after a police officer was cleared in the fatal shooting of a Black teenager.
(Rick Wood / Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel)

Residents of a Milwaukee suburb where protests turned violent after a Black police officer was cleared in the shooting death of a Black teenager were out early Thursday cleaning up debris from overnight damage to businesses.

Neighbors used brooms to sweep up broken glass and other debris after a 6 a.m. curfew expired. Windows were broken at several businesses in Wauwatosa, Wis., including a pharmacy, coffee shop, wall coverings store, dry cleaners and fitness center.

The protests came after Milwaukee County Dist. Atty. John Chisholm announced Wednesday that Wauwatosa police Officer Joseph Mensah would not be charged for fatally shooting 17-year-old Alvin Cole outside the Mayfair Mall on Feb. 2. Chisholm said Mensah had a reasonable belief that deadly force was necessary after police responded to a reported disturbance at the shopping center.

On Wednesday night, about 100 protesters confronted police officers wearing tactical gear and carrying shields. Police said that some in the group threw rocks and that they used tear gas to disperse the demonstrators. Footage posted on social media showed the gas and the crowd retreating.

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In a 14-page letter laying out his rationale for clearing Mensah, Chisholm said evidence showed that Cole fled from police carrying a stolen 9-millimeter handgun. He cited audio evidence from the squad car, along with testimony from Mensah and two fellow officers, that he said showed Cole had fired a shot while fleeing and refused to comply with commands to drop the gun.

Cole was the third person Mensah has fatally shot since becoming an officer, and the teenager’s death has sparked periodic protests in Wauwatosa and the Milwaukee area. Gov. Tony Evers announced earlier Wednesday that he had activated National Guard members as a precaution. Guard spokesman Maj. Joe Trovato later said “hundreds” of troops were at the ready.

Jacob Blake has been discharged from a hospital in Wisconsin and is now undergoing treatment at an Illinois rehabilitation clinic.

The city of Wauwatosa declared a 7 p.m. curfew after Chisholm’s decision was announced, in effect until next Monday. Many people ignored the curfew, marching peacefully in the city before protests turned violent. Earlier on Wednesday, scores had surrounded the Milwaukee County Public Safety Building as Cole’s attorney and family members met with Chisholm, some chanting, “Say his name! Alvin Cole!” and demanding justice.

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Chisholm’s report noted that Cole’s gun — the one that investigators believe he fired while running, possibly striking himself in the arm — had a spent round in the chamber and that the magazine was recovered in his sling bag, meaning that the gun had no more bullets in it when he was shot. Mensah and two other officers at the scene said Cole pointed the gun at them.

Cole’s sister Taleavia insisted that the shooting wasn’t justified because her brother could not have fired at Mensah. She said Mensah should not be allowed to continue working as an officer.

“The fight continues. It doesn’t end here,” she said. ”It’s time for D.A. Chisholm to retire or step down.”

Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis officer charged with murder in the death of George Floyd, has posted bond and has been released from prison.

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Chisholm also said that he didn’t believe the state had enough evidence to disprove Mensah’s contention that he was defending himself or others. Kimberley Motley, a family attorney for the Coles, seized on Chisholm’s wording.

“Chisholm did not say that the shooting was justified,” Motley said. “And that’s really important.”

Motley, who also represents the families of the two other people killed by Mensah, said that if Mensah had been fired earlier, then Cole would still be alive.

“We are not done fighting,” she said. “We are still going to fight for a conviction of Officer Joseph Mensah.”

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Police in Louisville, Ky., release details of their investigation of Breonna Taylor, who was fatally shot in a raid on her apartment.

Chisholm told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in an interview that he understood some people would be angry or disappointed by his decision, but that he wouldn’t change his “objective review” because of it. Chisholm said that although Mensah had been cleared in all three of his shootings, he was nonetheless concerned about the officer’s involvement in so many.

“This creates an incredible dilemma for the city of Wauwatosa and the Wauwatosa Police Department and the community,” he told the newspaper. “I’ve never been cavalier about that .… What is unique about this case is that it just creates such a liability for [shooting] No. 4. Everybody recognizes that.”

The Wauwatosa Police and Fire Commission suspended Mensah with pay in July, and he has appealed that suspension. The commission hired former U.S. Atty. Steven Biskupic to investigate the case with an eye toward what discipline Mensah might face. In a report released earlier Wednesday, Biskupic recommended that Mensah be fired, saying the risk he might shoot a fourth person was too great.

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Biskupic also wrote that Mensah violated department policy when he spoke to the media about the shooting in July.

An attorney for Mensah didn’t respond to a phone message from the Associated Press.


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