Yet another highly scrutinized police shooting has ended without charges for police. Mike Freeman, the prosecutor in Hennepin County, Minnesota, announced Wednesday he had decided not to charge officers who mortally wounded Jamar Clark in Minneapolis in November.
Police responded to a domestic-violence call on November 15, 2015, and ended up shooting Clark while trying to apprehend the 24-year-old black man. They said he was interfering with their work. The incident happened across the street from an Elks Lodge, so there were several witnesses. Some of them said Clark had been handcuffed when he was shot. While there was some cellphone video of the incident, no publicly revealed film showed clearly what happened.
Freeman, in announcing his decision on Wednesday, said the evidence did not support charging Officers Mark Ringgenberg and Dustin Schwarze, because their actions were justified. “Schwarze reasonably believed that if Clark had succeeded in removing his firearm from his holster, Clark would have shot both officers as well as exposing third parties to danger of injury by firearm,” Freeman’s report states. He also said Clark was not handcuffed at the time of the incident and was reaching for one of the officers’ guns.
Officers told Clark to put his hands in his pockets and he wouldn’t. Officer Mark Ringgenberg put his gun back in the holster and grabbed Clark’s right wrist. Officer Dustin Schwarze grabbed Clark’s other arm and dropped the handcuffs while trying to cuff him. Ringgenberg then tried a takedown move and they both fell to the ground and Ringgenberg’s back was to Clark’s stomach. Ringgenberg felt his gun go from his hip to the small of his back. Ringgenberg reached back and felt Clark’s hand on his gun. He repeatedly told Schwarze: “He’s got my gun, he’s got my gun.’
Schwarze unholstered his gun, put it to Clark’s face, and demanded he drop the gun. Clark reportedly responded, “I’m ready to die.” Schwarze pulled the trigger twice, but the pistol’s slide caught the first time.
Clark’s death set off a round of protests in the Twin Cities, where relations between African Americans and the police were already frayed after racially tinged incidents. The department had paid out a staggering $14 million in misconduct suits, but inquiries had seldom held officers accountable. After Clark’s shooting, activists staged occupations outside police stations, and in one incident five Black Lives Matter demonstrators were shot by apparent counter-protesters.
Freeman’s decision is unlikely to spell the end of the case. Protests are already planned for Wednesday afternoon.
But activists had also demanded that officials release video from the incident that might offer insight into what happened. Freeman’s report states that prosecutors reviewed many videos. A camera at the Elks Lodge, which it was thought might provide a useful angle, turned out to be nonfunctional. Freeman released five videos from ambulance cameras. One shows some of the struggle between Clark and the two officers, but doesn’t clearly capture the shooting.
Freeman also released various other videos, most of which are viewable on YouTube. Hennepin laid out the evidence and his rationale in a 24-page report.
Even as the video was being shown at Freeman’s news conference, activists objected. In footage from the conference, voices can be heard crying out as the tape rolls that Clark was not resisting arrest. Minneapolis NAACP president Nekima Levy-Pounds criticized Freeman for adopting the police’s view, the Strib reports.
The DA previously won praise from activists for his decision a few days ago to decide on charges himself rather than bring the case to a grand jury, citing the opacity and lack of accountability in the grand-jury process. Grand juries have failed to produce indictments in several of the most high-profile police violence cases, including the deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice.
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