The police officer who shot Jacob Blake in Kenosha in August will not be charged with a crime, Kenosha County District Attorney Michael Graveley announced Tuesday.
Officer Rusten Sheskey shot and paralyzed Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man, on Aug. 23 as Blake attempted to get into a car with his children inside. The video of the incident was widely shared on social media, leading to protests and violent unrest in the state.
Graveley said it is “absolutely incontrovertible” that Blake was armed with a knife as he resisted arrest. According to Graveley’s report, Blake attempted to enter the driver’s side of the car when he twisted and moved his right hand with the knife toward Sheskey, who discharged his weapon four times in Blake’s back and three times in the side until the knife was dropped.
“I do not believe the State could prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Officer Sheskey was not acting lawfully in self-defense or defense of others which is the legal standard the State would have to meet to obtain a criminal conviction in this case,” Graveley’s report reads.
Sheskey has worked for the Kenosha Police Department for seven years and was placed on administrative leave after the shooting. He remains on leave as of December. He has been the subject of five internal investigations, according to the AP.
The Wisconsin Department of Justice Division of Criminal Investigation asked former Madison Police Chief and use-of-force expert Noble Wray to conduct an independent review of the case.
Wray concluded in his report that Sheskey’s use of force was justified.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office is conducting a parallel civil rights investigation. Graveley said that Kenosha “deserves” a second legal opinion.
On the day in question, three officers, who did not have body cameras, were dispatched to an apartment complex for a domestic abuse call and knew that Blake had an arrest warrant. Blake had been previously charged in July with third-degree sexual assault, trespassing and disorderly conduct. He reached a plea deal in November and is serving two years probation.
Graveley said that the DA’s office does not intend to pursue charges against Blake in the August incident. There are also no “viable criminal charges” against the other two responding officers, according to Graveley’s report.
“This is a tragedy for those who love Jacob Blake,” Graveley said Tuesday. “I want to acknowledge and say that I really feel like the Blake family and Mr. Blake himself have tried to be truly positive forces in the community, asking the community to have peaceful but real dialogue about change that I think is necessary in this community.”
Braced for unrest
Graveley acknowledged in his report that his decision “may be met with anger and outrage.”
“Much of this anger will arise from the long history in our country of racial injustice, of systemic racism that has become embedded in our institutions including the criminal justice system and has influenced how our communities of color are policed and prosecuted,” Graveley wrote.
Ben Crump, an attorney for Blake’s family, expressed disappointment with the decision on Twitter, saying it “failed not only Jacob and his family but the community that protested and demanded justice.”
Blake’s family and other activists marched Monday evening ahead of the decision.
The Kenosha Common Council passed a resolution Monday to allow Mayor John Antaramian to impose curfews during eight days after Graveley’s decision, despite opposition from the ACLU.
Some businesses boarded up Tuesday, and National Guard members stood outside the county courthouse. On Monday, Gov. Tony Evers authorized the Wisconsin National Guard to support law enforcement in Kenosha at the request of local authorities.
Peaceful protests in Kenosha on Tuesday night ended around 9:30 p.m. There were no immediate reports of violence, injury or damage to property, according to Kenosha News.
In a Tuesday statement, Evers said “elected officials took no action” at a chance to enact police reform. In September, following the shooting, the Republican-led legislature opened and immediately adjourned a special session on police reform without debates or votes.
“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,” Evers said.
In a statement Tuesday, Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul called for Wisconsin to adopt a statewide use-of-force standard and for the legislature to provide funding for body cameras.
Rittenhouse pleads not guilty
Also on Tuesday, Kyle Rittenhouse entered not guilty pleas on the charges he faces, which include first-degree intentional homicide, first-degree reckless homicide, attempted first-degree intentional reckless homicide and violation of curfew on the night of the shootings, according to NPR.
Rittenhouse is accused of shooting three men, two of whom were killed, during unrest in Kenosha. Rittenhouse is free on a $2 million bond. Conservatives have been raising money for his legal team, according to the AP.
Rittenhouse was 17 at the time of the shooting and was charged as an adult. He is scheduled to return to court on March 10.
This story will be updated as more information is released.
state news writer