Three Tosa Police Given Immunity in Jay Anderson Probe
"Unorthodox" decision in John Doe probe of Anderson’s killing by officer is questioned.
As the John Doe investigation into the death of 25-year-old Jay Anderson Jr. in 2016 continues, questions linger around the decision to grant immunity to three Wauwatosa officers who responded to the scene. The officers were offered immunity in exchange for their testimony about what happened that night. It was a decision one of the special prosecutors involved in the John Doe investigation admitted was “unorthodox” in a filing to Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Glenn Yamahiro. The immunity offers underscored some questionable aspects of the investigation following Anderson’s death nearly six years ago.
Anderson was killed by former Wauwatosa officer Joseph Mensah during the summer of 2016, during what Mensah called a routine late night check of a nearby park. It was nearing 3 a.m. when Mensah encountered Anderson, who appeared to be asleep after a night out drinking with friends. Mensah woke Anderson, which took a couple attempts. Mensah stated that as they spoke, he noticed a pistol sitting on the front passenger seat beside Anderson.
Mensah fired several shots at Anderson, five of which struck him in the head and neck region. Personnel from the Milwaukee County Medical Examiner’s office testified during the John Doe court hearings in May 2021 that the nature of Anderson’s wounds indicated he was not lunging. Former Milwaukee Police Department homicide detective Ricky Burems also testified that the lack of blood on the passenger side of the car was also evidence against the claim that he was lunging.
Anderson was Mensah’s second shooting in the line of duty at Wauwatosa PD over the course of a year. Nearly four years after killing Anderson, Mensah fatally shot 17-year-old Alvin Cole near Mayfair Mall. Cole’s death triggered months of protest during the fall, summer, and winter of 2020. Mensah could face charges of homicide by negligent use of a dangerous weapon for shooting Anderson as a result of the John Doe proceeding.
When other Wauwatosa officers arrived, the gun Mensah said was beside Anderson was removed from his car and placed in the back of a police car. Anderson’s body was also removed from the vehicle and searched.
Not only did Wauwatosa officers move Anderson’s weapon, but Wauwatosa detectives canvassed the area for witnesses days after the shooting. Their observations that there were no witnesses to the shooting other than Mensah were forwarded to MPD, which led the investigation as part of the Milwaukee Area Investigative Team (MAIT).
The MAIT team consists of investigators from numerous Milwaukee-area police departments, including from Wauwatosa. Anderson’s death was ruled as a justified shooting by the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s office in December 2016. It wasn’t until 2021 when civil rights attorney Kimberley Motley pushed for the case to be re-opened that the John Doe proceeding began.
Two Wauwatosa officers, Ralph Salyers and Stephen Mills, were involved in removing the gun from Anderson’s car. Both of them were offered immunity in exchange for speaking to the two special prosecutors assigned to re-evaluate the Anderson shooting. Another officer who arrived on the scene, Captain Gary Gabrish, was also offered immunity.
One of the special prosecutors, Scott Hansen, told Wisconsin Examiner that the move to offer immunity was a tactical consideration. “We are attempting to be as thorough as possible,” said Hansen. “As we cannot compel testimony at this stage, witness participation is voluntary, and we concluded the immunity orders you saw were necessary to secure the cooperation of potentially important witnesses.” Hansen also noted that “they [the orders] are limited to the specific information the witness provides during the interview.”
Defense attorney Ramon Valdez of Brown Buffalo Law in Milwaukee scratched his head about the immunity orders when he heard about them in early January. “Why would you do that? To get them to talk?” Valdez, who is not involved in the Anderson case, wonders. “Why would they then want to talk if they already have immunity? They could say, ‘Well, we don’t know anything more than what’s on the video.’ What is there to talk about if you grant them immunity?” Valdez highlights to Wisconsin Examiner that Salyers and Mills, as officers, would have been aware of the law mandating an outside investigation. “It points to the poor training of those officers” that they tampered with the scene, says Valdez.
The review also emphasized that “we need extra training in evidence collection. Not only when to collect items but when we shouldn’t.” It added that “roll call training or in-service training would be the best route to take to ensure we collect what we need to and leave other items alone to be photographed.” The review stated that the gun was removed because Salyers and Mills felt Anderson could be “playing possum,” with one officer stating he didn’t notice Anderson’s facial wounds.
Given the wounds Anderson had received, Valdez rejects the officer’s claims that Anderson still had a pulse when they arrived. “So even if it was a mistake,” he tells Wisconsin Examiner, “now they’re being granted immunity again, to either cover up their own wrongdoing or, if it’s not wrongdoing and criminal, it’s certainly bad policy.” Valdez reflects on the many questions about what officers did and didn’t do on the scene after Anderson was shot. “There were just too many odd things going on,” he tells Wisconsin Examiner. “It smells of a cover-up, it has all the indications of a cover-up.” Valdez also points to the way Salyers, Mills and Mensah approached Anderson’s car, some of the officers with their long-rifles out and aimed. After shooting Anderson, Mensah radioed out, “I’m OK; Suspect down.”
As the investigation continues, Valdez fears that more offers of immunity could diminish the inquiry’s impact. “If more cops are offered immunity, who gets held accountable?” he asks. “Does it go up the chain then? If you’re going to grant officers immunity, where does it stop? Now we’re going to give another supervisor immunity because they’re improperly training their officers?”
Following the protests of 2020, Mensah resigned from WPD and is now a detective at the Waukesha County Sheriff’s Department. Nearly 11% of WPD’s staff have left the force, including former Chief Barry Weber, and supervisors who authored the Anderson shooting internal review and participated in protest enforcement. “Is the officer immunity connected to a potential violation of criminal law for them violating the policy of hands off, let an independent police department investigate this crime?” Valdez asks. “Very troubling.”
Why did Tosa police officers need immunity in the Jay Anderson investigation? was originally published by the Wisconsin Examiner.
More about the Case of Officer Joseph Mensah
- Alvin Cole Family Files Civil Rights Lawsuit Against Wauwatosa - Isiah Holmes - Jul 29th, 2022
- Special Prosecutors Won’t File Charges in Jay Anderson Killing - Isiah Holmes - Jun 2nd, 2022
- Did Tosa Police Withhold Phone Data? - Isiah Holmes - Mar 20th, 2022
- Three Tosa Police Given Immunity in Jay Anderson Probe - Isiah Holmes - Feb 1st, 2022
- Special Prosecutors Appointed in Case Against Joseph Mensah - Corri Hess - Dec 8th, 2021
- Supervisor Clancy Applauds Probable Cause Decision in Death of Jay Anderson, Jr. - Ryan Clancy - Jul 29th, 2021
- Rep. Bowen Statement on John Doe Charging Decision Against Joseph Mensah - State Rep. David Bowen - Jul 28th, 2021
- Closing Arguments Delivered On Jay Anderson’s Killing - Isiah Holmes - May 20th, 2021
- Tosa Police Had Many ‘High Value Targets’ - Isiah Holmes - May 12th, 2021
- Tosa Police Chief Testifies About Mensah - Corri Hess - May 4th, 2021
Read more about Case of Officer Joseph Mensah here