Authorities in Wisconsin announced Tuesday charges will not be filed against the Kenosha police officers involved in the August 23 shooting of Jacob Blake that left him reportedly paralyzed from the waist down.
Addressing reporters, Kenosha County District Attorney Michael Graveley said the officer who opened fire, Rusten Sheskey, and the other officers who were at the scene of the incident, would have had a strong case for self defense had authorities decided to officially press charges against them, NBC News reported. Sheskey shot Blake several times in the back in a Kenosha neighborhood after officers responded to a domestic disturbance incident.
“If you don’t believe you can prove a case beyond a reasonable doubt, you have an ethical obligation not to issue charges,” Graveley, who revealed he pre-informed Blake about the decision before coming out publicly, said.
The attorney for Blake’s family, Benjamin Crump, however, disputed Graveley’s decision. “We are immensely disappointed in Kenosha District Attorney Michael Gravely’s decision not to charge the officers involved in this horrific shooting,” he said in a statement. “We feel this decision failed not only Jacob and his family, but the community that protested and demanded justice.”
Per footage of the incident that was captured by a bystander, Blake was seen walking to his car when Sheskey – who was following him with his gun drawn – dragged him by his tank top before shooting him several times in the back when he opened the driver’s side of the vehicle. The shooting allegedly preceded Sheskey and one of his colleague’s unsuccessful attempt at using tasers to try and restrain Blake, according to authorities. Blake’s children were in the back seat of the car at the time of the shooting.
State prosecutors also said Blake was close to a knife at the time he was shot and a blade was also recovered in the footwell of his SUV. However, the bystander who recorded the video, Raysean White, said though he heard the police instructing Blake to “drop the knife!”, he did not see him armed with a blade, NBC News reported.
“Multiple officers tried to grab his arms and try to secure him so he can be cuffed,” Graveley said. “He admits at one point, ‘Officers were trying to handcuff me, but I was able to get up.’”
Graveley also said the officers made Blake’s arrest a priority when they got to know he had a warrant, adding that they could not let him leave the scene with the children in the vehicle. He also said it was “incontrovertible” Blake was in possession of a knife at the time of the incident, and he even admitted it.
“Officer Sheskey knows that an armed man with a felony warrant, who just forcefully resisted arrest, appears to be about to flee in a disputed vehicle, and there’s at least one child in the back,” said Graveley. “Those are all the facts that Officer Sheskey has in the context of a domestic abuse case at the point he has to decide what to do next.”
Meanwhile, Graveley also revealed Blake was involved in a 2010 incident with the Cook County sheriff’s officers where he allegedly brandished a 3-inch knife at them during a traffic stop, NBC News reported. Though charges against him were eventually dropped, Graveley said the defense could have used that against him during trial.
“It in no way would be able to demonstrate to you folks that he acted in conformity. This is 10 years ago,” he said. “But he would be subject to an absolutely devastating cross-examination that a jury would hear about an incident where he did display a knife. And if he denied any of those things, he would be shown the police reports.”
Blake’s shooting triggered days of curfew-defying protests in Wisconsin which escalated to violence, looting and destruction of property. Two protesters were also fatally shot by a 17-year-old White vigilante, Kyle Rittenhouse, during an altercation.
Following the announcement, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers – in a statement – said though there have been renewed calls for better policing as well as racial equity and justice for Blacks as a result of a string of incidents that occurred over the last year, it is clear “we have failed to deliver on these promises, both as a state and as a country.”
Jacob Blake’s life has forever been changed and his kids witnessed violence no kid should ever see, experienced trauma no kid should ever endure, all while the world watched. And yet, when presented the opportunity to rise to this moment and this movement and take action to provide meaningful, commonsense reform to enhance accountability and promote transparency in policing in our state, elected officials took no action.
Today’s decision is further evidence that our work is not done—we must work each day in earnest toward a more just, more fair, and more equitable state and country, and to combat the racism experienced by Black Wisconsinites. I hope for peace and justice for Jacob, his family, and the entire Kenosha community. I reaffirm my commitment to action to build a more just, more equitable state for every Wisconsinite. And I ask those who will exercise their right to assemble tonight and in the days ahead to please do so peacefully and safely.