A Wisconsin prosecutor announced Tuesday that he will not file criminal charges against the police officer who shot Jacob Blake in Kenosha last summer, leaving him paralyzed and setting off destructive riots in the city.
Officer Rusten Sheskey’s shooting of Jacob Blake on Aug. 23, captured on bystander video, turned the nation’s spotlight on Wisconsin during a summer marked by anti-police protests and riots.
More than 250 people were arrested in the days that followed, including 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse, now 18, who is charged in the fatal shootings of two men and the wounding of a third.
Kenosha County District Attorney Michael Graveley said Tuesday that he wouldn’t charge either Sheskey or two other officers at the scene, saying he would have to “disprove the clear expression of these officers that they had to fire a weapon to defend themselves.”
He added: “I do not believe the state … would be able to prove that the privilege of self-defense is not available.”
Graveley said he had informed Blake of the news before a news conference to announce the decision.
Ben Crump, an attorney for Blake’s family, expressed disappointment with the decision, saying it “further destroys trust in our justice system.” He said he will continue to move forward with a lawsuit and fight for systemic change in policing.
“We feel this decision failed not only Jacob and his family, but the community that protested and demanded justice,” Crump and his co-counsel 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.”
Kenosha, a city of 100,000 on the Wisconsin-Illinois border about 60 miles north of Chicago, was braced for renewed protests ahead of the charges, with concrete barricades and metal fencing surrounding the Kenosha County Courthouse and plywood protecting many businesses.
The Common Council on Monday night unanimously approved an emergency resolution giving the mayor the power to impose curfews, and Gov. Tony Evers activated 500 National Guard troops to assist.
Sheskey, 31, was among officers responding to a domestic dispute who were told by a woman at the scene that Blake was “trying to take my kids, he’s trying to take my car.”
Video shows Blake walking to the driver-side door of an SUV as officers follow him with guns drawn. As Blake opens the door and leans into the SUV, Sheskey grabs his shirt from behind and opens fire.
The Kenosha police union said Blake was armed with a knife and ignored Sheskey’s orders to drop it. Sheskey’s attorney, Brendan Matthews, said Sheskey fired because Blake started turning toward the officer while holding the knife.
Graveley said Blake was clearly armed with a knife — he displayed a photo of it from the scene — and said Blake had admitted having it in hand.
He said Sheskey feared that Blake might take the car with the children inside and committed to engaging with Blake after a physical struggle that included the failed use of electric stun guns, and after the officers initially backed away due to the knife.
Graveley said Sheskey shot Blake after Blake made a motion toward him with the knife.
The officers were not equipped with body cameras.
Not charging the officer “continues the cycle of enabling police violence and evading accountability when they seriously injure and harm a black person,” according to Chris Ott, executive director of the ACLU of Wisconsin.
“Based on the video footage of the incident, it remains hard to see any reason to shoot Mr. Blake in the back repeatedly. But, as we’ve seen so many times before, the police in this case were held to a different standard of responsibility than the rest of us.”
“I wish I could say that I’m shocked,” tweeted Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes. “It’s another instance in a string of misapplications of justice.”
I wish I could say that I’m shocked. It’s another instance in a string of misapplications of justice. It keeps happening, and there’s always a new excuse. The non-prosecuting DAs are as negligent as the officers in these situations. https://t.co/kJsXLzaqda
— Mandela Barnes (@TheOtherMandela) January 5, 2021
The state Department of Justice investigated the shooting under a state law that requires outside agencies to investigate all officer-involved incidents.
The department also asked former Madison Police Chief Noble Wray to review its findings after Graveley asked for an outside expert to review the investigation.
Rittenhouse, who traveled from his home in Antioch, Illinois, to Kenosha 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 has claimed the three men attacked him and he fired in self-defense.
Rittenhouse pleaded not guilty to all charges at a hearing on Tuesday.
Prosecutors dropped a sexual assault charge against Blake in November as part of deal in which he pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor counts of disorderly conduct. He was sentenced to two years’ probation.