KENOSHA, Wis. (CBS) — No police officers will be charged by the Kenosha County District Attorney’s office in the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin this summer.
Kenosha County District Attorney Michael Graveley announced the decision on Tuesday afternoon. He also said there will be no charges against Blake himself.
On Aug. 23, Kenosha police Officer Rusten Sheskey, who is white, shot Blake, 29, who is Black, seven times. Blake was left paralyzed from the waist down.
Graveley went into great detail as to why he made the decision – emphasizing that a prosecutor must build a case that can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt in court, and if prosecutors cannot do so, they cannot bring charges.
Graveley focused in particular on the issue of self-defense, noting that uniformed officers were called to the scene on a designated domestic abuse call and knew there were arrest warrants for Blake. He said the question was whether Sheskey reasonably believed shooting at Blake was necessary to prevent being stabbed by Blake or to prevent someone else from imminent danger – and if charges were brought, then the District Attorney would have to prove Sheskey did not reasonably believe such a thing.
Graveley said in Wisconsin, the burden of proof is on the state to prove an officer was not acting in self-defense, and he was not confident he could prove that case.
He added that he cannot bring charges to send a message about the misuse of force by police, to advance the cause of racial equity, or because the Blake family has suffered and needs healing – because while all are noble causes, they cannot legally be used as grounds to bring charges.
Graveley broke down what he said was all the evidence investigators had gathered from the officers, witnesses, Blake himself, and video about what happened the day Blake was shot by police. He explained that based on that evidence, a case could not be built that officers did not have a right to self-defense.
Graveley said Blake’s fiancée, Laquisha Booker, had called police to say Blake would not give her back her keys to her rental vehicle and was afraid he would crash the vehicle as he had on other occasions. He played the 911 call in court and also showed what the officers’ dashboard computer as they arrived – including information about a felony warrant against Blake involving sexual assault and domestic violence.
“That’s the evidence that they have as they proceed in the squad car,” Graveley said.
Sheskey arrived at the scene with officers Vincent Arenas and Brittany Meronek, Graveley said. At that point, Sheskey reported hearing Booker yell, “It’s him! It’s him! It’s my keys! It’s my car.”
An officer also reported hearing Blake declaring, “I’m taking the kids and I’m taking the car.”
Based on that, the officers identified the situation as a domestic abuse scenario, Graveley said. He said the officers observed that Blake was exhibiting controlling behavior, and Booker had called police because she was powerless in that situation.
Graveley also said Blake exhibited resisting behavior and admitted himself to doing so when he talked to investigators. The prosecutor said officers tried to bring Blake into custody in “multiple ways” that were not seen on the video that appeared on social media the day of the shooting.
Officers tried to direct Blake to the ground, and multiple officers tried to secure him, Graveley said. Blake admitted that an officer tried to handcuff him, but he was able to get up and evade the handcuffs, Graveley said.
Officers also used a Taser on Blake twice – once with a remote hit and once with a direct hit – and it did not have an effect, Graveley said.
Sheskey and Meronek said they had “never seen a defendant before who had as little impact by a Taser as Jacob Blake,” Graveley said.
Former Madison police Chief Noble Wray, who was brought in as a use-of-force expert in the case, said it was highly unusual for someone just to take Taser prongs out after a Taser is used on them, as happened with Blake.
Further, while many have said Blake was unarmed when Sheskey shot him, Graveley said Blake did, in fact, have a knife with which he armed himself while actively resisting. He said that is an incontrovertible fact to which Blake himself had admitted, and which was corroborated by enhanced photos.
Graveley said the officers called on Blake to drop the knife.
Thus, Graveley said, the officers concluded they were dealing with an armed man with a felony warrant who had just forcibly resisted arrest and was now about to leave in a vehicle with at least one child inside.
Sheskey grabbed Blake’s T-shirt as Blake entered the vehicle, with the reasoning, as quoted by Graveley: “I don’t know what he’s going to do. Is he going to hurt the child? Is he going to take off in the vehicle?”
Graveley said Sheskey also reported concerns that a pursuit of a vehicle with the child inside might follow, or the child might be held hostage.
Blake then opened the door of the vehicle and admitted to switching the hand in which he was holding the knife when doing so, Graveley said.
The prosecutor said Sheskey reported his thought process was, “I can’t let him get in that car without being back in harm’s way.”
Graveley also said while the video does not document it, officers and civilian witnesses saw Blake twist his body and move his right hand toward Sheskey as he held the knife.
Sheskey said he did not feel it was appropriate just to fire his gun because Blake displayed a knife or got into the vehicle, Graveley said. The officer said he only resorted to that step and shot Blake seven times after Blake made the motion in his direction with the knife, Graveley said.
Graveley also said while the narrative many have heard is that Blake was shot seven times in the back, an investigator found that was not the case. Graveley said rather, evidence showed Blake had four gunshot wounds in the back and three to the left side.
In terms of the number of shots, Graveley said Sheskey reported he fired until Blake dropped the knife.
The entire incident took place over a period of one minute and five seconds, CBS 2’s Chris Tye reported. Police said while most people were cooperative, Booker – Blake’s fiancée – was never available to talk to them.
To date, Booker has not been available to be served a warrant to cooperate, prosecutors said.
It was also revealed that in 2010, Blake reportedly pulled a knife on officers in Cook County.
Before announcing the decision, Graveley said he had talked with Blake personally about it ahead of time.
“This was a tragedy, first and foremost, for Jacob Blake, who still suffers from grievous injuries,” Graveley said, “These are life-threatening injuries that he’s suffering from today.”
He also called the shooting a tragedy for those who love Blake, his children who were in the vehicle when the officer shot him, and the Kenosha community. He called for healing, noting that it has already been shown that some people are “capable of expressing their anger in these moments by burning things down.”
“Rather than burning things down, can moments of tragedy like this be an opportunity to build things?” Graveley said.
Graveley, who is white, also emphasized that he has never had to deal with implicit or explicit bias based on race, or feared for his own safety with police officers or others in authority. But he said he has taken more than 250 cases to jury trial, and possesses “authentic experience and expertise” in that regard.
Blake’s family addressed reporters following the announcement – highlighting the ongoing crises of systemic racism and police violence against Black Americans.
“We, the Blake family, are asking this city, this county, this state, and this nation to rise up on a nonviolent civic uprising to let our friends and family know there’s a new sheriff in town,” said Blake’s uncle, Justin Blake.
Blake’s uncle added: “This is a slap in the face by Wisconsin government and DA and et cetera, and when it’s happening, it’s perpetuating systemic racism.”
“It’s 2021, and we as Americans and as citizens of Kenosha and the world must get this right,” Justin Blake said.
Jacob Blake’s father, Jacob Blake Sr., was in Chicago at the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition Tuesday night.
“No justification for what they did to my son,” Blake Sr. said.
Blake Sr. added: “Your story was you were afraid that my son was going to kidnap his children. If (Sheskey) was fearful of that, why would he fire in the car?”
Meanwhile, civil rights attorney Ben Crump and co-counsels Patrick A. Salvi II and B’Ivory LaMarr, who are representing Jacob Blake, issued a statement decrying the District Attorney’s decision:
“We are immensely disappointed in Kenosha District Attorney Michael Graveley’s decision not to charge the officers involved in this horrific shooting. We feel this decision failed not only Jacob and his family, but the community that protested and demanded justice.
“Officer Sheskey’s actions sparked outrage and advocacy throughout the country, 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. This sends the wrong message to police officers throughout the country. It says it is OK for police to abuse their power and recklessly shoot their weapon, destroying the life of someone who was trying to protect his children.
“This is not the news we were hoping for, but our work is not done and hope is not lost. It is now our duty to broaden the fight for justice on behalf of Jacob and the countless other Black men and women who are victims of racial injustice and police brutality in this country. We will continue to press forward with a civil lawsuit and fight for systemic change in policing and transparency at all levels.
“We urge Americans to continue to raise their voices and demand change in peaceful and positive ways during this emotional time.”
At the news conference with Blake’s family, LaMarr said the District Attorney’s decision was “deeply disturbing.” He said he believes there was more than enough evidence to charge Sheskey, and said there was no attempt at de-escalation before Sheskey shot Blake.
“We believe that all the elements of attempted homicide were met, and we believe that the city and the community are being deprived of their constitutional right to be able to be the trier of facts,” LaMarr said.
He said the video that appeared the day Blake was shot was enough to show probable cause that a crime was committed by police, and then it took four months for the District Attorney to find a reason why there would be no charges.
LaMarr also said the narrative about Blake being a danger was not true.
“He just wanted to get away,” LaMarr said. “He wanted to bring himself to safety after what took place before the video.”
LaMarr said Blake did not harm anyone or have any intention of doing so, and the officers attacked him. The attorney called Sheskey’s claim that he was afraid he was going to be stabbed “preposterous.”
“We maintain the belief that Jacob was essentially brutalized well before the video even started,” LaMarr said.
The attorney also added that “the facts seek for themselves,” and Graveley’s justification for deciding not to bring the charges does not change that.
“We don’t need to hear a two-hour explanation for what our eyes can see,” LaMarr said.
LaMarr said there remain plans to bring a civil action in the case.
The National Guard headed to Kenosha on Monday in the event of unrest after the announcement.
CBS 2’s Charlie De Mar has learned that 500 National Guard troops were dispatched to Kenosha. They were spotted surrounding the county courthouse and throughout the city.
— Charlie De Mar (@CharlieDeMar) January 6, 2021
It was quiet in Kenosha late Tuesday night. De Mar saw a group of a couple dozen or so protesting earlier, but not causing any issues.
Plans to keep the community and possible demonstrators safe also included designating a demonstration place and limiting Kenosha city bus routes as well as road closures, curfews, and protective fencing.
Chicago Police were also keeping a close eye on the streets for any unrest.
The Blake shooting sparked a wave of protests in Kenosha and across the country. There was also large-scale unrest in Kenosha during which several buildings were set on fire.
Kyle Rittenhouse, 17, is accused of two fatal shootings during the protests in Kenosha.
Rittenhouse is charged with homicide and attempted homicide for fatally shooting Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber, and wounding Gaige Grosskreutz on Aug. 25, 2019. He pleaded not guilty on Tuesday.
CBS 2’s Chris Tye, Charlie De Mar, and web producer Adam Harrington contributed to this report.
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