The Kenosha County, Wisconsin, district attorney will not be charging any of the law enforcement officers involved in the August 2020 shooting of Jacob Blake.
District Attorney Mike Graveley told Blake, 29, of his plan not to file charges prior to announcing it to the media.
During a news conference, Graveley said Officer Rusten Sheskey, who shot Blake seven times, was justified in his use of force on Aug. 23 because Blake was armed with a knife, refused orders to drop it and made a motion as if he was going to stab Sheskey. He said the evidence shows Sheskey fired in self-defense.
Graveley said Blake admitted to investigators that he was armed with a knife throughout the entire encounter with the officers.
Answering the question of whether Sheskey’s act was an excessive use of force, Graveley said that Sheskey told investigators, “I continued to fire until Jacob Blake dropped the knife. I am trained to fire until the threat is stopped.”
He said Sheskey stopped shooting when he saw Blake was no longer a threat and immediately began to give Blake first aid. The prosecutor said there were 10 more bullets left in Sheskey’s gun.
Blake’s shooting came after Sheskey and officer Vincent Arenas responded to a report of a domestic dispute, Graveley said. The officers first deployed a stun gun three times on Blake, but it had no effect. Blake broke free from the officers and continued around to the other side of his car, reaching into the driver’s side door before Sheskey fired his weapon, the prosecutor said.
Graveley said Arenas told investigators that he would have also fired at Blake if he had a clear shot because he feared Sheskey was about to be stabbed.
Graveley said an unfolded knife was found on the driver’s side floorboard of Blake’s vehicle.
Blake’s family said through their attorney that they are disappointed by Graveley’s decision, but will not stop fighting for justice.
“We are immensely disappointed and feel this decision failed not only Jacob and his family but the community that protested and demanded justice,” Ben Crump, Blake’s attorney, said in a statement on Twitter. “This isn’t the news we hoped for, but our work is not done and hope is not lost. We must broaden the fight for justice on behalf of Jacob Blake and the countless other Black victims of racial injustice and police brutality.”
“We will continue to press forward with our own investigation and fight for systemic change in policing and transparency at all levels,” Crump added. “We urge Americans to continue to raise their voices and demand change in peaceful and positive ways during this emotional time.”
The Kenosha Professional Police Association hailed the decision and said the “facts from this incident are finally known.” The statement also blamed politicians for “perpetuating the spread of misinformation” and “fanning the flames of civil unrest.”
“The officers attempted to take Mr. Blake into custody by giving him verbal commands, physically struggling with him AND deploying their Tasers,” Pete Deates, union president said in a statement. “Mr. Blake was also armed. At any time during his interaction with the officers, Mr. Blake could have and should have complied with their lawful orders. If he had, nobody, including the entire Kenosha community would have had to endure the pain and suffering that ensued.”
The U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights division is still investigating the shooting, according to a statement from the department.
The shooting was captured on a cellphone video that was posted on social media and went viral, prompting days of large-scale protests in Kenosha that were mostly peaceful during the day but turned violent at night. The Kenosha Area Business Alliance reported that $50 million in damages occurred from instances of violence, looting and fires. Thirty-five small businesses were destroyed.
The anger was especially high in the wake of protests of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky.
Graveley’s decision came after the mayor of Kenosha proposed an emergency declaration he said is intended to prevent a replay of the damage to businesses that occurred in August and led to a shooting that left two protesters dead and an Illinois teenager charged with homicide.
The Kenosha City Council voted unanimously Monday night to approve Mayor John Antaramian’s emergency declaration “regarding potential civil unrest.” Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers mobilized 500 state National Guard troops to Kenosha to support local law enforcement efforts in case violence breaks out. Evers, a Democrat, said he marshaled the National Guard in response to a request from local authorities.
Evers said in a statement Tuesday that he did not agree with the lack of action taken by prosecutors.
“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,” Evers said. “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.”
During a news conference Monday night, Blake father, Jacob Blake Sr., said he wanted to see Sheskey charged with attempted murder.
“He tried to kill my son. He didn’t try to take him down,” Blake Sr. said.
Over the weekend, Antaramian and Police Chief Daniel Miskinis released a list of “precautionary community safety measures” to be imposed for up to eight days after Graveley announced his decision, including a curfew, a designated demonstration space, road closures and limitations on city bus routes.
“Our responsibility to public safety is paramount and we are preparing for a number of possible public demonstrations and safety efforts,” Antaramian and Miskinis said in a joint statement.
Those closest to Blake, including his parents, say Blake is a loving and devoted father who did not deserve what happened to him.
Three of his children — ages 8, 5 and 3 — witnessed the shooting and were “absolutely devastated” by what they saw, Crump said. Blake’s oldest child was celebrating his birthday when his father was shot, Crump added.
“An unarmed Black man was sprayed with bullets by police. His children were watching. And once paralyzed by the gunshots, he was left handcuffed to a hospital bed,” NAACP President Derrick Johnson said in a statement.
“Today’s announcement from Kenosha is shameful and disgusting, and only proves how much work still needs to be done,” Johnson added. “This is far too familiar to the Black community.”
During a protest in Kenosha on Aug. 25, three protesters were shot, two fatally, allegedly by a then-17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse. The teenager, who is now 18, was arrested and charged with multiple counts, including first-degree intentional homicide in the death of Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, first-degree reckless homicide in the death of Anthony Huber, 26, and attempted first-degree intentional homicide in a shooting that left 22-year-old Gaige Grosskreutz wounded.
Following a Dec. 3 preliminary hearing, Rittenhouse was ordered to stand trial on the charges. His lawyers claim he opened fire with an AR-15 rifle in self-defense and cited multiple videos they say show him being chased and attacked by protesters.
He was arraigned on Tuesday in Kenosha County Circuit Court. Rittenhouse pleaded not guilty to the charges.