None of the Kenosha, Wis., police officers involved in an August shooting that left Jacob Blake paralyzed from the waist down will face criminal charges, District Attorney Michael Graveley announced late Tuesday afternoon.
With little notice, Graveley held a press conference announcing that neither Blake nor the officer who shot him, identified in August as Rusten Sheskey, will be criminally charged.
Blake, 29, was shot the evening of Aug. 23 when officers were called to a residence after a report from a female caller who said her boyfriend was trespassing, according to the Kenosha Police Department’s Aug. 26 statement on the shooting. Police said the responding officers tried to arrest Blake outside and used a stun gun in an unsuccessful attempt to subdue him.
Blake walked around his vehicle, police said, opened the driver’s side door and leaned forward. That’s when an officer, identified as Sheskey, shot Blake seven times, hitting him in the back. No other officer fired a gun.
After the shooting, police said, Blake admitted that he had a knife in his possession. A knife was recovered from the driver’s side floorboard of his vehicle, police said.
Lawyers for Blake, including civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump, said Blake was shot while his children were inside the vehicle. He survived but was left with serious injuries, attorneys said. The bullets severed his spinal cord and shattered some of his vertebrae, Crump said.
Detailing the months-long investigation, Graveley said Tuesday that officers were called to the scene that evening on a “designated domestic abuse call.” He added that the officers who arrived at the scene were aware of an unrelated arrest warrant for Blake. At the time of the shooting, Wisconsin court records showed that Blake had a warrant out for charges of disorderly conduct, third-degree sexual assault and criminal trespass that were filed in July.
Records now show that Blake pleaded guilty to two counts of disorderly conduct under a deal that dismissed the other two charges. He was sentenced to two years of probation.
During the 911 call, which Gravely played during the press conference, a woman identified by Gravely as Laquisha Booker told a dispatcher that Blake had the keys to a rental car that she needed to return and would not give the keys back to her. She also said Blake was not supposed to be at her home that day.
“I tried to keep from calling you guys,” Booker tells the dispatcher. “He’s crashed [many] of my vehicles in the past. And I just bought one, like yesterday.”
Graveley said an officer at the scene, along with a civilian witness, heard Booker yelling that Blake is trying to take her kids and her car. As officers tried to bring Blake into custody, Graveley said, a scuffle ensued between Blake and Sheskey. Police made three attempts to tase Blake, who was armed with a knife during the encounter, according to Gravely.
“Officer Sheskey knows that an armed man with a felony warrant who has just forcefully resisted arrest appears to be about to flee in a vehicle that is a disputed vehicle, and there’s at least one child in the back,” Graveley said. “Those are all facts.”
Before police released their statement on what happened, a video clip that captured the incident, and the moments leading up to it, went viral on Twitter. The clip shows Blake walking to the driver’s side of a parked SUV with two officers following closely behind. One of the officers has a gun pointed at Blake’s back.
An officer appears to pull at Blake as he opens the door. Then one officer shoots him in the back, the video shows. Screams can be heard in the background.
Gravely said four bullets entered Blake’s back and three entered his left side.
The shooting sparked days of fiery protests and riots in Kenosha, resulting in damaged buildings and two deadly shootings. The protests came as a series of deaths of Black people at the hands of police roiled the nation.
Now Wisconsin officials are gearing up for the potential of renewed unrest following Tuesday’s decision. Gov. Tony Evers said Monday that he has authorized the Wisconsin National Guard to support local law enforcement in Kenosha. Mayor John Antaramian and Police Chief Daniel Miskinis announced Sunday that there will be road closures, protective fencing, a curfew and designated spaces for demonstrations.
A federal civil rights investigation into the shooting is ongoing, the Department of Justice said Tuesday.
In a statement released after Graveley’s decision, Blake’s attorneys said they are “immensely disappointed” in the decision and plan to pursue a civil lawsuit, presumably against the city.
“Officer Sheskey’s actions sparked outrage and advocacy throughout the country,” the statement said, “but the District Attorney’s decision not to charge the officer who shot Jacob in the back multiple times, leaving him paralyzed, further destroys trust in our justice system.”
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