MILWAUKEE – The Kenosha, Wisconsin, police officer who shot Jacob Blake in August will not be criminally charged, Kenosha County District Attorney Michael Graveley announced Tuesday.
Neither the officer who fired shots, Rusten Sheskey, nor any others will be charged, Graveley said during a Tuesday news conference. His decision was based on evidence that could not be seen on cellphone video of the incident, which showed Sheskey shooting Blake, 29, as he got into a vehicle with his children inside.
Blake, who was shot in the back, was left paralyzed. The video, which was widely shared on social media, sparked protests, vandalism and arson.
“It’s a narrow task today, it’s a legal and professional task,” Graveley said at a Tuesday afternoon news conference.
He added that the shooting was a tragedy for Blake, his family, police and the community.
Blake’s attorney, B’Ivory LaMarr, said Graveley was subverting the will of the people by failing to charge Sheskey. There was clearly probable cause to believe a crime had been committed, LaMarr said, and the case should be brought before a jury.
“The people are being deprived of their constitutional right to be the trier of fact,” he said.
Graveley also did not charge the two other Kenosha officers who were present when Blake was shot, Brittany Meronek and Vincent Arenas.
Blake’s shooting and its aftermath propelled Wisconsin into the national spotlight. Both President Donald Trump and President-elect Joe Biden discussed it during campaign stops in the state. Biden met with Blake’s family and said charges against Sheskey appeared warranted, while Trump praised police and preached law and order.
On Aug. 25, the third night of protests in Kenosha, two men, Anthony Huber and Joseph Rosenbaum, were fatally shot by a teenager armed with an AR-15-style rifle. Kyle Rittenhouse, 17, has been charged with killing them and with wounding Gaige Grosskreutz, 26, of West Allis.
In addition to the homicide and attempted homicide charges, Rittenhouse faces two counts of endangering safety and one for illegal possession of a firearm. A count of violating curfew was added later. His attorney formally entered pleas of not guilty to the original seven charges on his behalf during a court hearing Tuesday. On the night of the shootings, Rittenhouse was among numerous white males who patrolled the protests with guns although they had no legal authority to do so.
Rittenhouse is free on a $2 million bond. His lawyers say he acted in self-defense.
Attorney Kimberly Motley, who represents Grosskreutz, called the decision not to charge Sheskey “outrageous” and “another tragic reminder of the inequities and the tremendous deference that is unfairly given to officers for unreasonably violent behavior.”
“There are many legal avenues that should be explored, exhausted and used to make sure that Sheskey and anyone else involved is held accountable,” she said.
Authorities braced for unrest
Authorities and Kenosha residents took precautions in anticipation of Tuesday’s announcement. Gov. Tony Evers called out the National Guard Monday afternoon as business owners boarded up their windows and government workers put up fences and concrete barriers around the courthouse. Monday evening, the Kenosha City Council approved an emergency declaration that included road closures and authorized a citywide curfew.
And although Graveley’s news conference was announced to the media Tuesday morning, he kept its location secret until 45 minutes before it began.
Blake’s family has no plans to stop protesting.
“Police officer Sheskey needs to be fired, indicted and have his day in court,” Jacob Blake’s uncle, Justin Blake, said at a Monday news conference. “The Blake family one day will get justice. … We’re a patient family.”
Blake is now home after months of hospitalization and rehab, his attorney said.
He is serving two years probation after reaching a plea agreement on the charges that resulted in the attempt to arrest him for violating a restraining order on Aug. 23.
Blake had been charged a month earlier with third-degree sexual assault, a felony, and two misdemeanors, trespassing and disorderly conduct, in connection with an altercation at his girlfriend’s home several weeks earlier. Under his deal with prosecutors, Blake pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor counts of disorderly conduct involving domestic abuse.
He has no other criminal record and no pending charges.
Officers seldom charged
Police are rarely charged in on-duty shootings. Since 2015, more than half of the murder or manslaughter cases brought against officers nationwide have ended in acquittals or deadlocked juries, according to data collected by Philip Stinson, a criminology professor at Bowling Green State University, and cited in a Washington Post report last year.
Police officers invoke self-defense in shooting cases and they typically have been deemed justified in using deadly force if they reasonably believe that a suspect has the ability to cause death or great bodily harm, or if the suspect could put the officer or someone else in imminent danger;
Even if it later turns out there was no real threat, a self-defense claim could still be viable if a person actually believed he or she was in danger and any “reasonable” person in the same situation would have believed the same thing.
If prosecutors could prove such a belief was not reasonable, they could pursue a homicide charge.