A Wisconsin prosecutor announced Tuesday that he will not file criminal charges against a white police officer who shot a black man in the back in Kenosha last summer, leaving him paralyzed and sometimes giving violent protests in the city.
Officer Rusten Sheskey’s shooting of Jacob Blake on August 23, captured on video from the other side, directed the country’s headlights at Wisconsin during a summer marked by protests over police brutality and racism. More than 250 people were arrested in the following days, including 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse, a self-styled doctor with a rifle accused of fatal shooting of two men and wounds of a third.
Kenosha County District Attorney Michael Graveley said Tuesday that he “would need to refute the clear expression of these officers that they had to fire a weapon to defend themselves.”
He added: “I do not think the state … could prove that the privilege of self-defense is not available.”
Graveley said he had informed Blake of the news before a press conference to announce the decision.
Ben Crump, a lawyer for Blake’s family, expressed disappointment with the decision, saying it “destroys confidence in our legal system” and sends a message that it is OK for the police to abuse their power. He said he will continue to pursue a trial and fight for systemic change in the police.
“We feel that this decision failed not only Jacob and his family, but the community that protested and demanded justice,” Crump and his co-advisers said in a statement, adding: “We urge Americans to continue to raise their voices and demand change in peaceful and positive ways during this emotional time. ”
BREAKING: Kenosha DA Michael Gravely will NOT accuse the officers involved in the shooting of Jacob Blake in August. We are extremely disappointed and feel that this decision failed not only Jacob and his family but society who protested and demanded justice.
– Ben Crump (@AttorneyCrump) January 5, 2021
The Blake shooting occurred three months after George Floyd died while being held back by Minneapolis police, a death that was captured on flashback video and sparked outrage and protests that spread across the United States and beyond. The galvanized Black Lives Matter movement focused on unfair policing and became a political frontier, with President Donald Trump criticizing protesters and aggressively pushing for a law-and-order message he sought to take advantage of in Wisconsin and other swing states.
Kenosha, a city of 100,000 on the Wisconsin-Illinois border about 600 miles north of Chicago, was backed by renewed protests before the charges, with concrete barricades and metal fences surrounding the Kenosha County Courthouse and plywood that protected many businesses. On Monday night, the Joint Council unanimously approved an emergency resolution that gave the mayor the power to impose curfews, among other things, and the Tony Evers government activated 500 National Guard troops to help.
Sheskey was among officers who responded to a woman who had reported that her boyfriend would not be there. Mobile video shows Blake walking to the driver’s side of an SUV as officers follow him with drawn weapons and shout. When Blake opens the door and leans into the SUV, Sheskey takes his shirt from behind and opens fire.
Hundreds defy curfew in Kenosha, Wisconsin to protest police shooting at black man
The Kenosha Police Department said Blake was armed with a knife and Sheskey repeatedly ordered him to release it, but he refused. Sheskey’s lawyer, Brendan Matthews, said Sheskey fired because Blake started turning on the official while holding a knife.
State investigators had only said officers saw a knife on the SUV floor and had not said if Blake threatened anyone with it. The police were not equipped with body cameras.
Failure to pay the clerk “continues the cycle of enabling police violence and avoiding liability when they seriously injure and injure a black person,” said Chris Ott, executive director of the ACLU in Wisconsin. “Based on the videos of the incident, it is still difficult to see any reason to shoot Mr. Blake in the back repeatedly. But as we have seen so many times before, the police in this case held a different level of responsibility than the rest of us. ”
Sheskey, 31, has been the subject of five internal investigations since joining the Kenosha department in 2013, including three reminders for crashing his group car three times in three years. He has also earned 16 awards, letters or formal praise, his staff file shows.
The Ministry of Justice investigated the shooting in accordance with a state law that requires external authorities to investigate all incidents involved by officers. The department previously asked Madison Police Chief Noble Wray, who is black, to review its findings after Graveley asked for an outside expert to review the investigation.
Rittenhouse, who was among gunmen who went to the Kenosha streets during the violence and said he was there to protect businesses, faces several charges including premeditated murder. A video from relatives showed Rittenhouse shooting Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber and injuring a third man. Rittenhouse, who is white, has claimed that the three men attacked him and he fired in self-defense. Conservatives across the country have raised money for his legal team. Rittenhouse was 17 at the time of the shooting.
Rittenhouse did not plead guilty to all charges at a hearing on Tuesday.
Prosecutors dropped a sexual assault charge against Blake in November as part of the deal in which he pleaded guilty to two counts of disorderly conduct. He was sentenced to two years in prison.