More than a year after Jacob Blake was shot by a Kenosha, Wisconsin, police officer while refusing to cooperate with law enforcement, the Justice Department has announced it is abandoning its attempt to charge with a civil rights violation the officer who shot Blake.
Blake, who is black, was shot on Aug. 23, 2020, in a high-profile incident in which multiple officers attempted to subdue Blake, who broke free from the officers trying to detain him during a domestic disturbance call.
Blake was followed into a vehicle by Kenosha police officer Rusten Sheskey, who fired several times, wounding Blake, 30, and leaving him paralyzed from the waist down. The incident triggered multiple nights of rioting in Kenosha, in which two people were killed.
The Justice Department noted in its release that it gave Blake’s family a heads-up about the news.
The Blake family has not issued any public statement about the federal decision.
“The department makes this decision because the evidence obtained is insufficient to prove that the KPD officer willfully used excessive force,” the Justice Department wrote.
The release said the Justice Department reviewed the case to determine whether any civil rights violation occurred.
“A team of experienced federal prosecutors from the Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office reviewed evidence obtained by the FBI and state investigators to determine whether the police officer violated any federal laws, focusing on the application of deprivation of rights under color of law, a federal criminal civil rights statute that prohibits certain types of official misconduct,” the release said.
The release stated that prosecutors “conducted a detailed and lengthy analysis of numerous materials, including police reports, law enforcement accounts, witness statements, affidavits of witnesses, dispatch logs, physical evidence reports, photographs and videos of some portions of the incident.”
The release said that proving a civil rights violation is more difficult than simply casting blame.
“Under the applicable federal criminal civil rights laws, prosecutors must establish, beyond a reasonable doubt, that an officer “willfully” deprived an individual of a constitutional right, meaning that the officer acted with the deliberate and specific intent to do something the law forbids. This is the highest standard of intent imposed by the law. Neither accident, mistake, fear, negligence, nor bad judgment is sufficient to establish a willful federal criminal civil rights violation,” the release said.
The release did not exonerate Sheskey but simply said it could not prove a civil rights violation.
“After a careful and thorough review, a team of experienced federal prosecutors determined that insufficient evidence exists to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the KPD officer willfully violated the federal criminal civil rights statutes. Accordingly, the review of this incident has been closed without a federal prosecution,” the release said.
Kenosha County District Attorney Michael Graveley announced in January that no charges would be filed against Sheskey after his department extensively reviewed video that showed Blake had a knife at the time he was shot.
“Blake fought w/3 cops…b/4 he was shot…shrugging off a shock from a stun gun & was trying to get into an SUV when Sheskey tried to stop him by pulling on his shirt…[V]ideo shows Blake turning toward Sheskey w/a knife & mkg a motion twd the cop w/it” https://t.co/XT1x0QFCmS
— Megyn Kelly (@megynkelly) October 9, 2021
Sheskey, who was not disciplined by the Kenosha Police Department, returned to full duty in April, but the case is not over, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.
Blake filed a federal lawsuit against Sheskey in March, claiming Blake’s rights were violated and that Sheskey acted with “malice, willfulness, and reckless indifference,” the outlet reported.
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