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Minneapolis police officers won’t face charges for shooting Jamar Clark

MPD officers Dustin Schwarze and Mark Ringgenberg
Hennepin County Attorney’s Office
MPD officers Dustin Schwarze and Mark Ringgenberg

The two Minneapolis Police Department officers involved in the shooting of 24-year-old Jamar Clark will not be criminally charged, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman announced today. 

The announcement comes after a months-long investigation into the shooting, which took place on Nov. 15, 2015, outside an apartment building on Plymouth Avenue in north Minneapolis.

In the wake of the shooting last fall, a group of protesters staged a series of demonstrations, including establishing an encampment at the Minneapolis Police Department’s Fourth Precinct station. The incident drew national attention, both for the the disputed facts at issue as well as the community’s response — a reaction that put intense focus on one particular question: Was Clark handcuffed at the time of the shooting?

Members of Black Lives Matter and others said they believed Clark was handcuffed when he was shot. Minneapolis Police Department officials said he wasn’t.

A detailed narrative

On Wednesday, Freeman offered a detailed narrative of the confrontation between Clark and MPD officers Mark Ringgenberg and Dustin Schwarze, who responded to the scene after being called there by paramedics. An EMS deputy supervisor, who was also at the scene, had reported that Clark was interfering with the paramedics’ ability to assist the woman who had called 911. 

Clark was shot in the head 61 seconds after the police officers arrived on the scene. 

According to Freeman, after being approached by the two officers, Clark struggled with the two men, and was quickly taken to the ground by Ringgenberg. 

An overflow crowd sat on the floor at the Hennepin County Gov't Center
MinnPost photo by Ibrahim Hirsi
An overflow crowd sat on the floor at the Hennepin County Government Center outside the room where Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman discussed the confrontation between Clark and MPD officers.

“Because they had fallen with Clark on his back and Ringgenberg’s back to Clark’s front, Clark was able to reach the grip of Ringgenberg’s firearm on which Ringgenberg could feel Clark pulling,” said Freeman. 

Freeman added that the investigation showed that Ringgenberg and Schwarze believed they were in danger at the time. “Ringgenberg was aware Clark had his hand on the grip of the weapon as he (Ringgenberg) was able to reach behind and feel Clark’s hand on the grip. He was unable to remove Clark’s hand from the grip.”

“Schwarze told Clark he was going to shoot him if he didn’t let go,” said Freeman. “Clark responded, ‘I’m ready to die.’ Schwarze’s first attempt failed but on the second trigger pull the weapon discharged, striking and fatally wounding Clark.”

Freeman said that DNA and other forensic evidence also supported the officers’ claim that Clark was not in handcuffs when he was shot. Both Ringgenberg and Schwarze had been with the Minneapolis Police Department for a little more than a year at the time of the shooting. 

Nekima Levy-Pounds
MinnPost file photo by Terry Gydesen
Nekima Levy-Pounds

Nekima Levy-Pounds, the University of St. Thomas law professor who is the president of the Minneapolis chapter of the NAACP, took issue with the narrative Freeman outlined in his presentation. “It’s very unfortunate to see the accounts from witnesses on the northside of Minneapolis be discounted in a forum like this,” she said in a statement. “If anybody was paying close attention … he didn’t give credence to the things that the witnesses had to say.”

Levy-Pounds said that the NAACP had conducted interviews with witnesses who said that Clark had been restrained. “Some said that he was in handcuffs. Others said that the officer was sitting on his chest when they heard a gun go off. So we take issue with the way in which the information was presented today.”

Mayor’s response

Mayor Betsy Hodges read a statement at a press conference Wednesday afternoon, including this: “I thank County Attorney Mike Freeman for his transparency, his professionalism, and his willingness to be publicly accountable for his decision. I also appreciate his thorough explanation of the process that he and his office followed to reach the decision, as well as his choice to release all of the evidence obtained during the course of the investigation.”

Hodges said one of the reasons Freeman chose to make the decision himself was to be able to release all of the videos and other evidence. 

She said that after the civil rights division completes its own investigation, the U.S. attorney will determine whether to bring any charges. Once that is done, MPD will conduct its own investigation regarding any discipline of the officers.

Mayor Betsy Hodges
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
Mayor Betsy Hodges, second from right, was joined at a Wednesday afternoon press conference by Council Members Linea Palmisano, Barbara Johnson, Kevin Reich, Lisa Goodman and Police Chief Janeé Harteau, among others.

Police Chief Janeé Harteau was asked about the disbelief by some residents as to the evidence cited by Freeman and a statement made by a woman at the charging announcement, “if the town burns, its on your head.” 

“I’m not surprised that people have their own opinions, regardless of what was presented today and we have contingency plans in place for a multitude of scenarios,” Harteau said. “We are working closely with community leaders and organizers to make sure we don’t get to that level.”

Hodges was asked about complaints that the city hasn’t done enough, or hasn’t done anything, to promote racial equity or to reform the police department.

“I understand that people are frustrated. I understand that people are asking questions about a system that they often feel doesn’t work for them or at least doesn’t work for everybody,” Hodges said. 

She said she and Harteau have “been doing the work of transformation into a 21st century police department.” Hodges cited the procedural justice training that two-thirds of the department’s officers have undergone, how 61 percent of latest community service officer class are people of color and said that Minneapolis is one of just six cities taking part in the National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice.

Rep. Keith Ellison, whose congressional district includes north Minneapolis, commended Freeman for not leaving the charging decision to a grand jury. “By taking responsibility … County Attorney Freeman set an important precedent for openness and accountability,” Ellison said in a statement. “Whether you agree or disagree with the decision, it is important that the evidence is now open to review and that County Attorney Freeman presented his full reasoning to the public.”

Union president’s response

From the beginning, the Minneapolis police union President Lt. Bob Kroll has been supportive of officers Schwarze and Ringgenberg.

On Wednesday afternoon, Kroll told reporters, “We welcome the outcome of the investigation.

“This is the most thorough and transparent investigation with state and federal involvements I’ve experienced.”

Following the shooting last year, BLM leaders demanded an independent investigation, which was conducted by the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. They also demanded a grand jury process not be used. Both were granted.

Now, Kroll noted, he expects that members of the public to accept the process and outcome of the case. “In highly sensitive cases such as this,” he said, “it’s very important that we allow the lengthy investigative process to run its course before premature judgment is made.”

Minneapolis police union President Lt. Bob Kroll
MinnPost photo by Ibrahim Hirsi
Minneapolis police union President Lt. Bob Kroll speaking to reporters during a Wednesday afternoon press conference.

Kroll said he contacted Schwarze and Ringgenberg after Freeman’s announcement. They were relieved, he said.

During the process, Kroll said, the officers “felt terrible” and “their families have been through hell.”

Freeman’s office has posted a series of documents related to the case, including his report on the incident, a chronology, videos from bystanders and ambulances, transcripts of the 911 call, the autopsy report, lab reports from the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, photos, and search warrants.

MinnPost will continue to update this story as more information becomes available. 

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Comments (20)

  1. Submitted by Jim Million on 03/30/2016 - 03:26 pm.

    Watched this live

    on KSTP 45. Freeman was incredibly detailed from start to finish, far more than I expected. His presentation was professional yet compassionate, without denigration of crowd “witness” allegations. Instead, he made it clear that many people often see and hear different scenes while viewing the same events.

    It was clear to any open mind that MN BCA had done an extremely thorough investigation here.

    Much of the hearsay we have received from the Community was negated in factual findings, but not demeaned by Freeman.

    The camera focused on three women in tears. It seemed that two might be reacting to realization of events, while the third seemed possibly still angry and coping with mixed emotions.

    Questions were taken by Mike Freeman. He answered calmly and clearly, even when subjected to the gratuitous oration of a noted local activist, who a second time resumed her ad hominem assault on Mpls. Police after launching it on the first opportunity. She asked no question, so Freeman went on to others who did have questions.

    As Mike Freeman announced, “everything” in detail was to be on the website by late this afternoon.

    And, by the way, several examinations and reports, including pathology, showed no evidence of handcuffs ever applied to the subject. In fact, a pair was found on the ground near the body, spattered on one side only, indicating blood from the fatal wound.

  2. Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 03/30/2016 - 06:18 pm.

    Bad situation made worse

    A bad situation made worse to fatal. Could there have been a better way, sure, probably on both sides. Just a bad situation all the way around.

  3. Submitted by Steve Titterud on 03/31/2016 - 07:00 am.

    The legal standards cited by Mr. Freeman are not elective.

    “In Graham v. Connor, the United States Supreme Court held that the use of deadly force by a police officer must be evaluated from the perspective of a reasonable police officer on the scene and in the same circumstances. Reasonableness of police use of force cannot be evaluated from the perspective of a civilian nor can it be evaluated with the more clear vision afforded by 20/20 hindsight under Graham. The Court further stated that the fact that law enforcement officers often are required to react quickly in tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving situations needs to be taken into account in determining reasonableness. Since Graham, the Supreme Court has narrowed the analysis to focus on the exact moment that the force was applied.”

    Mr. Freeman’s observation that the law offers a “significant defense” for officers seems a real understatement. It would appear that only the most brazen acts of unprovoked violence by police would survive the kind of test delineated above by the SCOTUS, as it is the perspective of the police officer – in the heat of the moment – which is compelling.

    And from whom would you acquire the perspective of a police officer? Answer: from the police, not from bystanders nor law professors nor political activists – it’s written into the law, per the decision quoted above.

    Given the facts reported to him by all the investigators, and given the legal standards, it would appear Mr. Freeman had little choice in the matter.

  4. Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 03/31/2016 - 08:15 am.

    Little choice

    I believe Freeman’s decision was right. However, given the events, it’s clear that one or both of these cops is incompetent. Clearly, the situation was not in hand and the use of deadly force may not have been required if they knew what they were doing. Bad decisions by all parties involved, but in the end, use of deadly force was likely justified.

    • Submitted by John Appelen on 03/31/2016 - 08:55 am.

      Agreed

      Now that is a comment we can agree on.

    • Submitted by Pat Berg on 03/31/2016 - 02:55 pm.

      Takedown not MPD procedure

      Regarding the way Riggenberger slammed Clark onto the ground, and per Mike Freeman as reported on MPR (http://www.mprnews.org/story/2016/03/31/takedown-manuever-criticized-jamar-clark):

      “It is my understanding that is not a technique normally favored by Minneapolis police. I’m not familiar with every intimate detail of their training. But that’s what I’ve been advised,” he said. “No. 2, Ringgenberg acknowledged he’d learned that when he was in San Diego, and apparently, that’s consistent training with what they do there.”

      So hopefully one outcome of this will be better clarification and training on Minneapolis police policies, especially for officers coming in from an outside jurisdiction where things may have been done differently.

  5. Submitted by T J Simplot on 03/31/2016 - 09:12 am.

    I think Mr. Freeman did a great job in laying everything out. I thought he also did a great job in explaining the handcuff issue. He did acknowledge that there were witnesses who said he was handcuffed but that the reports were not consistent while also admitting that it is common in situations like to this to have conflicting reports. The DNA evidence just wasn’t there that he was handcuffed.

    I respect those who disagree with the outcome but by slamming the decision without first looking at all of the evidence that was released to the public, their response comes across more emotional than reasonable. I think a reasonable response would have been to review all of the evidence themselves first.

  6. Submitted by Jim Million on 03/31/2016 - 10:03 am.

    For the Record:

    http://www.hennepinattorney.org/news/news/2016/March/jamar-clark-decision

    As officially posted…In Part:

    “When Ringgenberg and Schwarze arrived, they ordered Clark to remove his hands from his pockets to make sure he did not have a gun. When he refused, the officers moved in and attempted to handcuff Clark. When he resisted, Ringgenberg took Clark to the ground and landed on top of him. However, Ringgenberg felt his gun move to the small of his back. When he reached for it, he felt Clark’s hand on the gun, an account that was supported by DNA evidence.”

    [For those who wish to review all evidence, exhibits and related official documentation, see site noted.]

  7. Submitted by Bill Willy on 03/31/2016 - 02:41 pm.

    Not so sure

    It seems to me a lot of people (all over the place) are missing the point.

    Regardless of the technicalities in the associated laws and the obvious reality that “cops are doing a tough and dangerous job few people would sign up for,” way too many black men have been winding up shot dead by the police, primarily because they’re “scary” to the predominantly white police officers who encounter them in “heated moments.”

    Regardless of his “bad behavior,” there’s no getting around the fact that Jamar Clark was unarmed and that one of the other key elements of the evidence is the fact that everything explained by the authorities yesterday happened in less time that it takes to read the first two paragraphs of this article or the first two comments here.

    “61 seconds”

    The woman Jamar Clark had hurt was safely locked in the ambulance, along with the paramedics. Jamar Clark may have been “behaving irradically” outside that ambulance, but no one inside (or outside) was in any danger of imminent death or bodily harm.

    There were two (relatively) heavily-armed police officers on the scene who had had a lot of training related to how to handle a person acting in an “out of bounds” way and, a person assumes, a fair amount of experience in that regard.

    Yet because the person they were dealing with had his hand in his pocket and didn’t take it out when ordered to (at some point in that 61-second time span) one of those officers made the decision to initiate the violence involved in tackling someone in order to “secure” them to “make sure” that person wouldn’t hurt anyone because that person MAY have had a lethal weapon in their pocket.

    And then, when the take-down move didn’t work and it turned into a previously unnecessary struggle, the other police officer put his gun to the unarmed person’s head and pulled the trigger.

    And that’s “justifiable”? A “bad decision”? There was no other alternative? Two armed men facing one other man who they “thought” MIGHT be armed but weren’t sure so they decided to tackle him, blew it, lost control and because of that decided the only alternative was to kill him immediately because he MIGHT get the tackler’s gun and shoot them?

    Take away the uniforms. Replace those two officers with yourself and a friend and your conceal carry permits (George Zimmerman style) and place yourself in the same situation and result. Would you still be going to work or do you think you’d be going to trial?

    But the bigger point is the overarching reality that the Jamar Clarks of the world have been getting “justifiably” killed by “the authorities” for similar reasons for decades, if not centuries and, if you’re not black and you can put yourself in black people’s — the black community’s — shoes for a minute or two, it MIGHT be easier to understand why black people are so genuinely and, if you ask me, rightfully, “upset.”

    What do people think it’s like to be a young black male in America? It’s not just a TV show or a movie. It’s real life and the prospect — the everyday awareness — that you actually COULD get shot in the head or the back by “the authorities” (not just crazy people or really bad-ass lowlifes you run into here and there, but “the authorities”) who very rarely, if ever, pay any price for offing you for doing things like standing somewhere with your hands in your pockets has got to make a person feel at least a little “put upon” and ultra wary every time they go out the door.

    When was the last time you worried about getting stopped and shot by the police on your way to or from anywhere? Pretty much an absurd and (realistically) impossible notion, isn’t it?

    When was the last time you spent all day or night fretting over the prospect of that happening to one of your kids?

    When was the last time anything like that actually happened to you, one of your kids or one of your relative’s or friend’s or neighbor’s or anyone you know’s kids or husband or boyfriend?

    If you’re a white person the answer to that is likely never. If you’re a black person the answer is far more likely to be just last night, last week, last month, last year, once a long time ago.

    And that’s got to be a terrible thing. A terrible reality to have to live with ALL THE TIME. And if it was you or me living with that we’d want it to stop — and demand for all we were worth that it stop — as soon as it could be MADE to stop by whoever had the power to make it stop.

    But when that’s a big element of your life and you hear what Mike Freeman said yesterday and you “go on the web” and look at all the evidence, watch all the videos, read the laws that handcuffed him and listen to the radio and hear what people are saying and maybe go to the StarTribune website, or over to Minnpost and read the comments, you probably don’t get the feeling there’s much hope that it’s going to stop anytime soon.

    I’m sorry, but it’s NOT alright for any person — whether they’re a police person or non-police person — to shoot another person (who’s being held down by a third person) in the head because they’re afraid of what that person MIGHT do IF.

    Especially when the people doing the shooting have an array of less violent and lethal options at their disposal and they’re armed to the teeth relative to the person they’re dealing with.

    The law may say they were right but that doesn’t make those who don’t agree wrong.

    And if the majority of the “we” our society consists of are going to keep justifying and passively okaying that kind of action in anything other than Absolute Last Resort situations, or “we” just shrug our shoulders and say, “Not good, but oh well,” a whole lot of “we” are going to have to continue to “just live with it” for their (and probably their kid’s) foreseeable future.

    “We” okay with that too?

    • Submitted by Ray J Wallin on 03/31/2016 - 03:18 pm.

      The crux…

      That’s the crux of it, isn’t it? Blacks have been discriminated against forever, so Jamar Clark should not have been shot.

      To a cop, hands in the pockets means you are armed. No one around Jamar was in danger of imminent death because, after the fact, we know he was not armed. What if Jamar had a gun? How many cops have to die for it to be even?

      • Submitted by Bill Willy on 04/01/2016 - 01:02 am.

        After the fact

        “hands in the pockets means you are armed.”

        Good to know (the unwritten law).

        • Submitted by Ray J Wallin on 04/02/2016 - 11:14 am.

          Careful

          That’s scary to me, Bill.

          The officers asked the man to remove his hands from his pockets and you are telling youth that they should not see that as necessary.

          People can get hurt, badly, with that attitude.

          • Submitted by Bill Willy on 04/03/2016 - 12:37 am.

            Dear Youth,

            Even though I don’t have any idea how Ray saw my saying what I said in reply to what he said as me telling you not to take your hands out of your pockets when asked to do so by police officers it’s important not to take any chances if you find yourself in a situation like the one Jamar Clark found himself in.

            Even though I had no intention of saying anything close to that to you — and even though I don’t know what Ray’s talking about — please try to think this about that as you move forward in life:

            If a police officer tells you to take your hands out of your pockets (or anything else along those lines) do so immediately and without question. Be cooperative, be cool, don’t raise any sand. If you think or feel the police officer is in the wrong or violating your rights (constitutional or otherwise) do it anyway, stay calm and safe and sort those things out later.

            The most important thing in moments like those is not to get shot and killed because that makes sorting those things out later impossible.

            I hope that helps clarify what I really think about that aspect of this and I hope you have a long, happy, healthy and prosperous life filled with good friends and loved ones, great times and memories and no encounters whatsoever with police officers who think and act like the police officers involved in this case.

            I apologize if what Ray referred to as my scary attitude on the subject caused you to think otherwise. That was not my intent.

        • Submitted by Pat Terry on 04/03/2016 - 04:31 am.

          pockets

          This was not some guy on the street with his hands in his pockets. This was a guy who was going to be arrested for 1) domestic abuse, and 2) interfering with the paramedics. The police came to an active crime scene and asked the suspect to take his hands out of his pockets. You know what? You take your hands out of your pockets under those circumstances.

    • Submitted by Jim Million on 03/31/2016 - 03:50 pm.

      The majority of “we”

      do seem to be “okay” with that. You really answer your own rhetorical question.

      Maybe shouldn’t be, but that’s the way it is.

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 03/31/2016 - 05:14 pm.

      Technicalities

      Sorry, but the legal standard that determines whether the officers broke the law is not a technicality. Its the only thing that matters.

      And yes, things would be different if they weren’t wearing uniforms. But they were. And because of that the law is different.

      The police were called because 1) a man beat a woman to the point of her needing medical attention, and 2) he interfered with the paramedics treating her for her injuries. You can try to break down the timeline and say at this point or that point there was no danger, but the police had to deal with a volitile situation (caused entirely by Clark) in real time.

      I would hope most cops could resolve a situation like this without killing anyone. This was very far from model policing. But it wasn’t a crime. Freeman (as any competent prosecutor would) knew he would never get a conviction and made the right decision not to charge.

      • Submitted by Bill Willy on 04/01/2016 - 12:51 am.

        Sounds familiar

        “I thought the Minneapolis police who came to the scene did a terrible job. Clark was unarmed when they arrived and 61 seconds later there was a bullet in his head. You won’t convince me that had to happen.”

        http://www.minnpost.com/community-voices/2016/03/decisions-decisions-justice-some-or-justice-all

        But something else is the only thing that matters?

        • Submitted by Pat Terry on 04/01/2016 - 09:41 am.

          Yes

          Because there are two separate issues: 1) whether the officers handled this well and 2) whether they broke the law.

          The problem is that some people think the same answer applies to both. It doesn’t.

          I think (I hope) most people would answer no to the first question. I would. Sounds like Mike Freeman would too. But he was answering the second question, and he answered it correctly.

          The worst part of my job is sitting through long meetings. Nobody dies when the meetings go badly. My job does not involve going to active crime scenes. It does not involve protecting victims of domestic abuse and ensuring the paramedics can take them to safety.

          The reason we have different standards for police officers is that their job frequently involves these kind of things. Its an extremely difficult job that requires going into volitile situations.

          I don’t see any problem with thinking that the officers should not be charged, but that they should do better.

  8. Submitted by Bill Gleason on 03/31/2016 - 04:36 pm.

    Was it necessary or helpful

    to post the pictures and names of the officers involved in this matter?

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