“This in essence is the police version of how to get away with murder,” said B’Ivory LaMarr, one of Jacob Blake’s attorneys, after learning details behind the Department of Justice’s decision not to pursue criminal civil rights charges against the officer who left the Wisconsin man permanently paralyzed last year.
On Oct. 8, the Department of Justice released its final report on Blake’s shooting in Kenosha, Wisconsin, on Aug. 23, 2020, after investigating for more than a year.
The Justice Department determined there was insufficient evidence to prove Kenosha Police Officer Rusten Sheskey willfully used excessive force when he shot 30-year-old Blake seven times.
Blake’s run-in with Officer Sheskey was captured on a viral video which sparked national protests. The video shows Blake struggling with officers outside of his vehicle before breaking away to get to the driver’s seat, where Sheskey, holding Blake’s shirt with one hand, shot him seven times in the back as he tried to enter his vehicle.
In January, the Kenosha County District Attorney, Michael Graveley, also chose not to press charges against Sheskey in his report, citing the officer feared he was going to be stabbed with Blake’s knife that was in his possession at the time of the shooting.
“It is absolutely incontrovertible that Jacob Blake was armed with a knife during this encounter,” said Graveley during a Jan. 5, 2021, news conference.
“This case is not over,” says Wisconsin NAACP State Conference of Branches President, Wendell Harris.
Harris says the Kenosha NAACP branch chapter and the Blake family will determine their next steps in their pursuit of justice. LaMarr added the pursuit for justice on a legal front must involve substantive policy change so police can be held more accountable.
He wants police reform advocates and policymakers to reevaluate the law, specifically the “willful standard,” which means prosecutors must establish beyond reasonable doubt that an officer willfully or deliberately deprived an individual of a constitutional right.
“A lot of times these types of investigations close without prosecution because the government is stating that they can’t establish because of the officer’s conduct was necessarily willful, not necessarily that a constitutional right was not deprived, but because they can’t necessarily establish that an officer’s conduct was willful,” said LaMarr.
LaMarr expanded on his comments, saying, “This in essence is the police version of how to get away with murder. You have an individual, you claim that I see a weapon, I’m in fear of my life. If you utter those four words, many times officers can find a way of escaping liability, especially criminally.”
As for Jacob Blake and his family, LaMarr says, Blake, who is now paralyzed from the waist down, is still working through the pains associated with being shot by Sheskey last year.
He says the Justice Department’s decision only makes Blake’s recovery worse, but they will continue advocating for social justice and police reform.
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