A judge tosses claims against a former Wisconsin police officer who killed 3 people in five years

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MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A federal judge has dismissed two of three claims against a former Wisconsin police officer who killed three people of color in five years.

The families of Antonio Gonzales, Jay Anderson and Alvin Cole filed federal lawsuits in 2021 and 2022 against former Wauwatosa Police Officer Joseph Mensah and the city’s police department, alleging that Mensah used excessive force and the department promotes racism. The lawsuits were consolidated in September 2022.

U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman in Milwaukee dismissed the Gonzales and Anderson families’ claims on Thursday, online court records show. He allowed the Cole case to continue, setting oral arguments for next month.

The families’ attorney, Kimberly Motley, said the Gonalzes family conceded last fall that they likely wouldn’t win their case. Still, she plans to ask Adelman to reconsider dismissing the Anderson family’s case.

Mensah shot Gonzales, 29, in 2015 after Gonzales approached him with a sword and refused to drop it, according to prosecutors. He shot Anderson in 2016 after he found Anderson, 25, sleeping in a car in a park after hours. Mensah said he opened fire when Anderson reached for a gun on the passenger seat. And he shot Cole, 17, during a foot chase outside a mall in 2020. Mensah said the teen fired first.

Mensah is Black. Anderson and Cole were Black and Gonzales identified as Indigenous.

Prosecutors chose not to charge Mensah in any of the incidents. Mensah resigned from the police department under pressure in 2020 and joined the Waukesha County Sheriff’s Department.

Adelman said in a written order that Mensah warned Gonzales twice to drop the sword before opening fire.

As for Anderson, the judge said that squad-car footage showed him reaching toward the passenger seat twice before Mensah fired. Mensah radioed dispatch before the shooting to inform other officers Anderson had a gun and backup officers testified they found a gun on the seat, Adelman added.

Adelman acknowledged claims from Anderson’s family that he was reaching for a cellphone. But he said the phone was next to the gun and there was no way Mensah could have known whether Anderson was reaching for the gun or something else.

The judge said he didn’t need to address the racism claims because the excessive force claim failed.

Motley said she disagreed with the decision to dismiss Anderson’s case, saying a jury should decide if he was trying to pick up the phone, the gun, or nothing at all. She said she planned to file a motion asking Adelman to reconsider his decision.