We were curious why Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm is taking so long to make a decision in the Joseph Mensah case, so we decided to ask his office. His spokesman blamed the pandemic and enhancement of a new video.
“There is no timeline for our office’s decision concerning the death of Alvin Cole,” said Chief Deputy District Attorney Kent Lovern.
That was almost a month ago, on Aug. 24. We keep hearing Chisholm’s decision in the shooting death of 17-year-old Alvin Cole is imminent. Then it doesn’t happen. We still think it’s probably imminent. We hope that’s true.
We say get on with it. It’s Sept. 22. Cole died on Feb. 2. Even acknowledging the obvious need for a thorough investigation: What’s taking so long?
Is it the death of George Floyd and a desire to wait until cold weather tamps down protests? Is Chisholm waiting for former U.S. Attorney Steve Biskupic to finish his independent review into Mensah (Biskupic was given until Oct. 19)? Was Chisholm waiting for rioters to forget about Kenosha? Does he want to use the presidential election as a distraction to dump the decision then?
None of those things would be a good reason to delay any further. The Mensah case and the protests and violence that have erupted as a result of it have torn a hole in Wauwatosa’s sense of normalcy. The disorder has gone on for months. Mensah is living with a figurative Damocles’ sword over his career and reputation. He deserves an answer. The families have been living with an open wound. They deserve closure. The city has been subjected to neverending disorder. City residents deserve peace. The taxpayers are paying the salary of an officer who was suspended for reasons he says no one has clearly articulated.
Chisholm has always seemed a relatively fair arbiter of police-related shootings. Although he became a political lightning rod because of the unrelated John Doe, when it comes to police-related matters, he’s seemed fair. He ruled the first two Mensah shootings justified self-defense. Based on what we currently know, it’s always seemed to us like the third Mensah shooting is the most clearly justified of them all. After all, police say Cole had a gun outside Mayfair Mall and fired it first, and the officer shouted “drop the gun.” We get the family disputes that. Stopping a gunman on mall property used to be considered heroic. Chisholm’s Jay Anderson decision took about six months. He cleared Mensah in the shooting of Antonio Gonzalez in three months. We’re already past that point – 7.5 months have passed since the Cole shooting. Chisholm seems to have a habit of slow-walking the highest profile of these cases. He revealed he wasn’t charging MPD Officer Christopher Manney, in another hot button case, three days before Christmas, eight months after it happened. He tends to make these decisions in the fall or winter, not the hot summer months.
Enough, we say. DA Chisholm, get on with it. We get that the pandemic has been tough on everyone, but people are going to Walmart and school, so you should be able to do your job despite it.
Here’s Lovern’s full response when we asked: 1) what’s taking so long; 2) what’s the timeline for a decision; 3) whether it’s true there was new evidence or a new video in the case.
As you may know, during our review of these critical incidents, we always meet with the family and legal representatives of the deceased person in order to discuss the investigation and to follow up on any questions or new issues that may arise. The pandemic delayed this process until early summer, when we had a meeting with the Cole family and their attorneys, as documented in the news link in your email. During that meeting, we were presented with additional video evidence that was not originally provided to our office. Subsequently, the Wisconsin Department of Justice has assisted us with enhancing the audio and video evidence in this investigation and we have since had several conversations with the attorneys for the Cole family.
We’ve asked the DOJ whether their investigation into matters relating to the Cole shooting is complete. We will update this story if a response is received.
Disclosure: Jessica McBride is the niece of Wauwatosa Mayor Dennis McBride.