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.
“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, 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 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.
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.”
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.