The lawsuit claims a Black police officer, who has been connected to at least three other shooting deaths, was enacting racist policies and practices by opening fire on an armed teenager.
The family of a Wisconsin teenager who was fatally shot by an active-duty Wauwatosa police officer has filed a civil rights lawsuit against the city and several law enforcement officials.
According to The Associated Press, 17-year-old Alvin Cole was one of three individuals killed by former Wauwatosa Officer Joseph Mensah in a five-year timespan.
Cole’s parents, Tracy and Albert Cole, have since filed a lawsuit, alleging that Mensah employed “excessive force.” The Cole family is seeking unspecified damages.
Additionally, the Cole family claims that the Wauwatosa Police Department “embraces and promotes” discrimination against racial minorities.
Cole, notes The Associated Press, was shot and killed after a brief foot chase outside of a shopping mall in February 2020.
“We think that these lawsuits are very important to make sure that Joseph Mensah, former police chief Barry Weber and the city of Wauwatosa are all held accountable for the death of Alvin Cole,” attorney Kimberley Motley told The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel in an interview.
Mensah, adds the Journal-Sentinel, has been implicated in at least three other fatal shootings, all of which involved non-White suspects. Perhaps not surprisingly, Mensah was never charged in any of the incidents.
An investigation into the killings was formally dismissed by District Attorney John Chisholm finding that Mensah had acted in self-defense and in accordance with his training as a law enforcement officer.
While Mensah has since left the Wauwatosa Police Department, he has not left law enforcement: according The Associated Press, Mensah simply migrated to another station after the shootings, and is currently employed by the Waukesha County Sheriff’s Department.
Despite the lawsuit, Wauwatosa Mayor Dennis McBride has suggested that the courts will likely favor the city.
“The incident on which this lawsuit is based was traumatic,” he said in a statement. “Nevertheless, based on all 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, we believe this case will be decided for the City.”
The Journal-Sentinel reports that Cole, 17, was shot and killed on February 2, 2020, after the Wauwatosa police received a report of an armed man outside the Mayfair Mall.
Mensah arrived outside of the shopping center to see other officers, along with mall security guards, chasing Cole on foot.
During the chase, Cole’s firearm discharged, striking him in the arm.
Cole, says the Journal-Sentinel, collapsed after the injury, at approximately the same time that law enforcement ordered him to the ground.
According to the Cole family’s lawsuit, about 10 seconds passed between Cole hit the ground and Mensah opened fire.
The complaint notes that Mensah was the only officer to discharge his firearm, arguing that the other two police officers refrained from additional force because they had “already controlled the situation, knowing that the use of deadly force was not warranted.”
The lawsuit states that one of Mensah’s colleagues verbally instructed the officer to stop firing at Cole.
The Cole family is seeking unspecified damages. It also details the city’s history of discrimination against Black Americans, some of which were enforced through the 1980s and 1990s.
Although the lawsuit alleges that Cole’s killing could have been motivated by racial animus, or entrenched institutional prejudice, it should it should be noted that Mensah himself is Black.