FILE - In this Friday, Sept. 4. 2020 image from Kenosha County Court video, Jacob Blake answers questions during a hearing in Kenosha, Wis. On Sunday, Jan. 3, 2020, Kenosha city officials said they are preparing for possible protests when a charging decision comes in the police shooting of Blake. A decision is expected within the next two weeks. (Kenosha County Court via AP, File)

No charges against Wisconsin officer who shot Jacob Blake

No charges against Wisconsin officer who shot Jacob Blake

KENOSHA, Wis. — A Wisconsin prosecutor declined Tuesday to file charges against a white police officer who shot a Black man in the back in Kenosha, concluding he couldn’t disprove the officer’s contention that he acted in self-defence because he feared the man would stab him.

The decision, widely criticized by many public officials and civil rights advocates across the state, threatened to reignite protests that rocked the city after the Aug. 23 shooting that left Jacob Blake paralyzed. Gov. Tony Evers called the decision “further evidence that our work is not done” and called for people to work together for equity. Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, who is Black, was more pointed on Twitter: “I wish I could say that I’m shocked. It’s another instance in a string of misapplications of justice.”

Kenosha County District Attorney Michael Graveley said investigators concluded Blake was carrying a knife when police responded to a report he was trying to steal a car. Officer Rusten Sheskey said he “feared Jacob Blake was going to stab him with the knife” as he tried to stop Blake from fleeing the scene.

“I do not believe the state … would be able to prove that the privilege of self-defence is not available,” Graveley said.

The shooting of Blake, captured on bystander video, turned the nation’s spotlight on Wisconsin during a summer marked by protests over police brutality and racism. More than 250 people were arrested during protests in the days that followed, including then-17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse, a self-styled medic with an assault rifle who is charged in the fatal shootings of two men and the wounding of a third.

Blake family members expressed anger about the charging decision and urged people to “rise up.”

“This is going to impact this city and this state and this nation for many years to come,” Justin Blake, an uncle, said. “Unless the people rise up and do what they’re supposed to do. This is a government for the people by the people, correct? We talk about this constitution everybody’s supposed to be so committed to, and yet we stand in the state that has the most convictions of African Americans in the United States. So they’re weighing heavy on one side of justice, but they’re allowing police officers to rain down terror on our communities. It’s injust.”

Ben Crump, an attorney for Blake’s family, said the decision “further destroys trust in our justice system” and sends a message that it is OK for police to abuse their power. He said he will proceed with a lawsuit, and called for people to “demand change in peaceful and positive ways.”

The Blake shooting happened three months after George Floyd died while being restrained by police officers in Minneapolis, a death that was captured on bystander video and sparked outrage and protests that spread across the United States and beyond. The galvanized Black Lives Matter movement put a spotlight on inequitable policing and became a fault line in politics, with President Donald Trump criticizing protesters and aggressively pressing a law-and-order message that he sought to capitalize on in Wisconsin and other swing states.

Kenosha, a city of 100,000 on the Wisconsin-Illinois border about 60 miles north of Chicago, braced for renewed protests ahead of the charges, with concrete barricades and metal fencing surrounded the Kenosha County Courthouse and plywood protecting many businesses. The Common Council on Monday approved an emergency resolution giving the mayor the power to impose curfews, among other things, and Evers activated 500 National Guard troops to assist.

As temperatures dipped near freezing Tuesday evening, about 20 protesters gathered and marched in an area north of downtown, chanting “No justice, no peace.” About 15 cars, some honking their horns, followed.

Vaun Mayer, a 33-year-old activist from Milwaukee who is Black, drove to Kenosha to protest. He said he didn’t expect the officer to be charged, calling Graveley’s decision just the latest in a line of prosecutors failing to charge police officers in Wisconsin.

“We’re used to this and we didn’t expect anything different than this,” he said.

Graveley told reporters during a two-hour presentation Tuesday afternoon that investigators determined that the events leading up to the shooting began when the mother of Blake’s children called police and said Blake was about to drive off in her car. Officers determined en route that Blake had a felony warrant out for sexual assault.

They arrived to find Blake placing the couple’s three children in the back seat of the woman’s SUV. Graveley said officers had no choice but to arrest him since he was wanted. He said Blake resisted, fighting with the officers as they tried to handcuff him. Officers used a stun gun on him three times to no effect.

Noble Wray, a Black former police chief and a use-of-force expert who reviewed the investigation, said Blake had a knife that apparently fell to the ground during the struggle. Blake picked it up and officers disengaged and drew their guns. Blake then tried to get into the SUV, Wray said.

“Any officer worth their salt, they’re not going to let someone leave under these circumstances,” Wray said. “This is the stuff Amber Alerts are made of.”

Sheskey grabbed the back of Blake’s shirt, Graveley said. Blake turned and moved the knife toward Sheskey, the officer told investigators, leading him to believe his life was in danger, the district attorney said.

Sheskey fired seven times, hitting Blake in the back four times and in the side three times, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down. Graveley said the shots in the side show Sheskey had twisted toward the officer.

Graveley showed reporters an enlarged photo of what he said was Blake’s knife, adding that Blake acknowledged to investigators he had it. The district attorney walked reporters through how he would have prosecuted the case, saying jurors would have had to put themselves in Sheskey’s position and that the officer’s self-defence claims would have held up given the circumstances of the case.

Jeffrey Cramer, a former federal prosecutor who has prosecuted officers, said Graveley presented a compelling case that showed why charges are not appropriate.

“There isn’t anyone who would like to be in that officer’s shoes — but in that moment, he used what I feel was reasonable force to end the threat,” Cramer said. For those who disagree, he said, “What should he have done, let him drive away with a child in the back, let themselves get stabbed? … The only answer reasonably is — they need to defend themselves.”

The officers were not equipped with body cameras.

Sheskey, 31, has been the subject of five internal investigations since he joined the Kenosha department in 2013, including three reprimands for crashing his squad car three times over three years. He has also earned 16 awards, letters or formal commendations, his personnel file shows.

Rittenhouse, who was among armed people who took to Kenosha streets during the violence and said he was there to help protect businesses, faces multiple charges including intentional homicide. Bystander video showed Rittenhouse shooting Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber and wounding a third man. Rittenhouse, who is white, has claimed the three men attacked him and he fired in self-defence. Conservatives across the country have been raising money for his legal team. Rittenhouse was 17 at the time of the shooting.

Rittenhouse pleaded not guilty to all charges at a hearing Tuesday.

Prosecutors dropped the sexual assault charge against Blake in November as part of deal in which he pleaded guilty to two misdemeanour counts of disorderly conduct. He was sentenced to two years’ probation.

___

This story has been corrected to reflect that Rittenhouse pleaded not guilty to all charges.

___

Richmond reported from Madison, Wisconsin. Scott Bauer in Madison and Amy Forliti in Minneapolis contributed to this report.

Todd Richmond And Michael Tarm, The Associated Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

People lineup at a hotel for the homeless before the 8 p.m. COVID-19 curfew on Jan. 11, 2021, in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Legault nixes call for COVID-19 curfew exemption, saying it could used to avoid fines

Legault nixes call for COVID-19 curfew exemption, saying it could used to avoid fines

The body of 25-year-old Kyler Corriveau was discovered near Red Deer on Sunday. He was missing since Dec. 15. Police are investigating his death as a homicide. (Contrinuted photo).
RCMP are investigating the death of missing Red Deer man as a homicide

The body of Kyler Corriveau was discovered on Sunday

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw reported 456 new cases of COVID-19 over Tuesday afternoon. (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Five new COVID-19 deaths in Central zone, two in Red Deer

Province reports 456 new cases of COVID-19

Community Futures Central Alberta, in partnership with the Central Alberta Regional Innovation Network (CARIN), is behind the SMARTstart initiative for budding entrepreneurs.
New program aimed at helping entrepreneurs succeed

Program offers mentorship, business advice and networking opportunities

A Red Deer man, who has been declared a dangerous offender, lost his appeal of an aggravated assault conviction from 2017. Advocate file photo
Red Deer man who chomped on remand centre inmate’s ear loses aggravated assault appeal

Inmate lost part of his ear in attack at Red Deer Remand Centre in August 2017

Justin Kripps of Summerland and his team have competed in Olympic action and World Cup competitions in bobsleigh. (Jason Ransom-Canadian Olympic Comittee).
QUIZ: Are you ready for some winter sports?

It’s cold outside, but there are plenty of recreation opportunities in the winter months

FILE - John Mulaney arrives at night one of the Creative Arts Emmy Awards on Sept. 14, 2019, in Los Angeles. A file obtained by The Associated Press shows the U.S. Secret Service investigated John Mulaney, but found no wrongdoing in a joke the comedian made on “Saturday Night Live” in February 2020. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP, File)
File details investigation into John Mulaney ‘SNL’ monologue

File details investigation into John Mulaney ‘SNL’ monologue

FILE - In this Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2017, file photo, Tom Hanks arrives at the People's Choice Awards at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles. Hanks will host a 90-minute primetime TV special celebrating the inauguration of Joe Biden as president of the United States. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP, File)
From Gaga to Garth, Miranda to Moreno: Celebs join inaugural

Like so much this past year, the inaugural celebration will be like… Continue reading

A Honduran migrant poses for a photo at a road block manned by Guatemalan soldiers and police, on the highway in Vado Hondo, Guatemala, Monday, Jan. 18, 2021. Some migrants threw rocks while authorities launched tear gas and pushed the migrants with their riot shields back down the highway. (AP Photo/Sandra Sebastian)
Large migrant caravan dissolves in Guatemala

Large migrant caravan dissolves in Guatemala

FILE - In this May 2, 2020, file photo, Erika Bermudez becomes emotional as she leans over the grave of her mother, Eudiana Smith, at Bayview Cemetery in Jersey City, N.J., Bermudez was not allowed to approach the gravesite until cemetery workers had buried her mother, who died of COVID-19. Other members of the family and friends stayed in their cars. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)
‘Shameful’: US virus deaths top 400K as Trump leaves office

‘Shameful’: US virus deaths top 400K as Trump leaves office

Riot shields are stacked at the ready as National Guard troops reinforce the security zone on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021, before President-elect Joe Biden is sworn in as the 46th president on Wednesday. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
2 Guard members made extremist statements about inauguration

2 Guard members made extremist statements about inauguration

In this Jan. 6, 2021, photo, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., walks from the Senate floor to his office on Capitol Hill in Washington. Now that the House has impeached President Donald Trump for the second time, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi must figure out the best strategy for arguing the case before the Senate. Senate rules say the trial must start soon after the chamber receives the article of impeachment, which cites “incitement of insurrection” after an angry mob of Trump’s supporters invaded the Capitol last week. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
McConnell: Trump ‘provoked’ Capitol siege, mob was fed lies

McConnell: Trump ‘provoked’ Capitol siege, mob was fed lies

Biden marks nation’s Covid grief before inauguration pomp

Biden marks nation’s Covid grief before inauguration pomp

An empty Peel and Sainte-Catherine street is shown in Montreal, Saturday, Jan. 9, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Poll finds strong support for COVID-19 curfews despite doubts about effectiveness

Poll finds strong support for COVID-19 curfews despite doubts about effectiveness

Most Read