The protests ignited earlier this week after prosecutors announced Wauwatosa police Officer Joseph Mensah wouldn’t face charges for shooting and killing Alvin Cole, 17, outside the Mayfair Mall on Feb. 2.
Officials said Mensah, who is also Black, had a reasonable belief that deadly force was necessary when responding to a reported disturbance at the shopping center.
Cole was the third person Mensah had fatally shot since becoming an officer, and the death has sparked periodic protests in Wauwatosa and elsewhere in the Milwaukee area. Mensah is a 14-year veteran of the force.
Just before 10 p.m. Friday, the confrontation with police escalated.
Videos circulating on Twitter show police charging, in a line, toward protesters chanting “No justice, no peace!”
Footage then showed the crowd retreating as gas was deployed with some screaming that it felt like a “war.”
“Heavy dose of tear gas and pepper balls deployed. This is the worst I ever got it,” Ricardo Torres, a reporter from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel tweeted.
The gas was so overwhelming, Torres tweeted, that it took him a “solid 10 minutes of gasping for air” before he was able to get “solid amounts of oxygen.”
On Wednesday, Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm, in a 14-page letter said evidence showed Cole fled from police carrying a stolen 9 mm handgun. He cited squad car audio evidence, along with testimony from Mensah and two other officers, that he said showed Cole had fired a shot while fleeing and refused commands to drop the gun.
Wauwatosa’s officers aren’t equipped with body cameras.
The Wauwatosa Police and Fire Commission suspended Mensah with pay in July, and he has appealed. The commission hired former U.S. Attorney Steven Biskupic to investigate and in a report released earlier Wednesday, Biskupic recommended that Mensah be fired, saying the risk he might shoot a fourth person is too great.
The city of Wauwatosa issued a nightly 7 p.m. curfew after Chisholm’s decision was announced, to run until next Monday. Many people have ignored the curfew, marching peacefully in the city.
But late Wednesday evening, well past the curfew, a group of a few hundred protesters confronted a police line. Police said some in the group were throwing rocks at law enforcement and buildings and that they used tear gas to disperse the protesters.
WISN-TV reported windows broken at several businesses on the city’s north side, including a pharmacy, coffee shop, wall coverings store, cleaners and fitness center.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.