November 15, 2017 10:44 AM
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman announced Wednesday that the two Minneapolis police officers involved in the November 2015 shooting death of 24-year-old Jamar Clark will not be criminally charged in Hennepin County.
There is still the possibility of charges related to the coinciding civil rights case.
Officers Mark Ringgenberg, 30, and Dustin Schwarze, 28, both seven-year veterans at the time of the shooting, faced possible charges of murder or manslaughter.
According to Freeman and police reports, Ringgenberg and Schwarze arrived at the scene of the shooting on Nov. 15, 2015, and ordered Clark to take his hands out of his pockets to show that he did not have a weapon. Police say he refused, and the officers said they moved in and attempted to handcuff Clark.
A main debate in the case was whether Clark was handcuffed at the time of the shooting. The two officers testified they were unable to handcuff Clark, and Freeman says the witnesses who said Clark was handcuffed gave differing accounts.
The officers said Clark resisted, so Ringgenberg took Clark to the ground and landed on top of him. Ringgenberg said he felt his gun move to the small of his back, and when he reached for it, he felt Clark’s hand on the gun.
Freeman says physical exams found no evidence of bruising on Clark's wrists consistent with being handcuffed. He also said traces of Clark's DNA found on the grip of one officer's gun supported the contention that he was not handcuffed.
While Clark and Ringgenberg struggled, Schwarze told Clark he would shoot him if he didn’t let go of the gun.
According to the police reports, Schwarze said he recalled Clark looking directly at him and saying, "I’m ready to die." Schwarze said the "only thing I could think of to do was to save our lives and anyone else in the immediate area so I pulled the trigger."
Freeman said Schwarze's actions were reasonable because if Clark successfully pulled the gun from the holster, Ringgenberg and Schwarze would have been shot and other bystanders might have been hit as well.
At Wednesday’s news conference, Freeman concluded that criminal charges were not warranted against either officer.
Freeman said every governmental entity, especially those in public safety and justice, must continually evaluate their procedures to make sure they "meet the challenges of today and not merely reflect how we have done things in the past."
However, Freeman said that the Jamar Clark case is "not similar to those seen around the country," referencing fatal police shootings in Chicago and Cleveland, among others.
"These officers were called to respond to a person who had assaulted his girlfriend and interfered with paramedics caring for the girlfriend," Freeman said. "These officers did not have the opportunity to negotiate or tactically withdraw."
Freeman pleaded for everyone to stop using violence.
"Violence only begets violence," Freeman said. "Let us show respect toward every person no matter how much we may dislike them. All of us – prosecutors, police and the community – have much work to do to reduce the violence that plagues us."
How the Case Began
Critics in the city's African-American community have accused the officers of unjustly shooting Clark, who was shot in the head during a fight with the officers shortly before 1 a.m. on the 1600 block of Plymouth Avenue North in Minneapolis.
At the time of the shooting, Clark was a suspect in a domestic assault against his girlfriend—identified as 41-year-old RayAnn Hayes—and was interfering with paramedics who were trying to help her, according to police reports. The responding officers fought Clark because he was interfering with the paramedics and was resisting arrest, according to reports.
In the months leading up to Freeman's announcement, Lt. Bob Kroll, president of the Minneapolis police union, was steadfast in his description of what happened that night, saying Clark had his hands on one of the officer's guns and officers had no choice but to shoot Clark in self-defense.
Still, witnesses who claim they saw the shooting say Clark was handcuffed at the time and was not struggling. Following the shooting, the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension led the investigation with assistance from local FBI agents. The results of the investigation were turned over to Freeman’s office last month for review.
Protests in Response
Within days of the shooting, protests started with marches and scores of people camping for 18 days in front of the department's 4th Precinct in North Minneapolis. The encampment was eventually cleared on Dec. 3 after officers, dressed in riot gear, dispersed the crowd. Eight people were arrested that day.
The rallies were mainly organized by Black Lives Matter, an international activist movement that campaigns against violence against African-Americans.
Minneapolis NAACP President Nekima Levy-Pounds, who emerged as the leading face of the local Black Lives Matter movement, called for long-term reform of the Minneapolis Police Department.
"What happened to Jamar Clark was just the tip of the iceberg in terms of abuse and harassment that members of the Northside community in particular and throughout the Minneapolis community have faced at the hands of the Minneapolis Police Department," Levy-Pounds said the week of the shooting. "We are here standing in solidarity with the community saying, 'Enough is enough.' We are demanding the release of the tapes. We're demanding reform of the police department, and we're demanding justice right now."
Several of the following rallies caused widespread disruptions throughout the Twin Cities metro area, including one protest that closed parts of Interstate 94 in Minneapolis and another that blocked a terminal at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport two days before Christmas.
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman's Role
Several weeks before Wednesday’s announcement, Freeman announced he would not present the case to a grand jury because the process wouldn’t provide enough transparency and accountability.
In order to bring charges against a police officer for using deadly force, the State must be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the officer’s use of deadly force was not justified. This legal standard remains the same, regardless of whether the factual determination is made by a county attorney or a grand jury.
Department of Justice Investigation
5 EYEWITNESS NEWS reached out to the U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division to inquire about the timeline related to the coinciding civil rights case. A department spokesperson responded with the following statement:
The Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division, U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Minnesota, and FBI Minneapolis Division continue to investigate whether the death of Jamar Clark violated any federal criminal civil rights laws. As is our practice in conducting investigations into allegations of constitutional violations committed under color of law, experienced federal prosecutors and FBI agents are conducting a review of all available evidence in this case in an expeditious and thorough manner. While the investigation is ongoing the Department will have no further comment.
Updated: November 15, 2017 10:44 AM
Created: March 30, 2016 11:06 AM
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