Rusten Sheskey, the Kenosha, Wisconsin, police officer who shot Jacob Blake in a shooting captured in a viral video, will not face criminal charges, the Kenosha County District Attorney Michael Graveley announced in a news conference on January 5, 2021. No other officers present that day will either, the DA said in a news conference.
“My decision now that I announce today is that no Kenosha law enforcement officer in this case will be charged with any criminal offense,” said Gravely. He said that Sheskey believed that he was about “to be stabbed,” and was responding to a volatile domestic abuse situation. He also cited that there were prior contacts between Blake and the woman who called police for domestic violence, Laquisha Booker. “A pattern is very clear,” said Graveley.
He said Blake made it clear he was “going to take the kids, take the car.” Due to the felony warrant, the officers had no discretion to say they wouldn’t arrest Blake, said Graveley. He also said there was resistant behavior by Blake who ignored officers’ commands. “There are multiple ways that officers tried to bring Jacob Blake into custody. They tried to direct him to the ground. Multiple officers tried to grab his arms…” The DA said this isn’t seen in the video.
Graveley said his decision was a narrow one; he had to decide whether the DA’s office in its professional judgment felt there was sufficient, admissible evidence to convince a jury beyond a reasonable doubt whether Sheskey or the other officers shot Blake unlawfully. He said there is a statute in Wisconsin designed specifically for fatal police shootings, even though Blake did not die. He said the statute remained an excellent guide for his charging decision.
It first requires an investigation by an independent agency; that was done by the state Department of Justice. It then goes to the District Attorney in the county where the shooting occurred, which happened. Former Madison, Wisconsin, Police Chief Noble Wray was the use-of-force expert in the case; Gravely described him as working on police reform issues. “This was clearly a dramatically exhaustive investigation,” said Gravely, who added that Blake also will not face any charges.
Attorney Ben Crump responded on Twitter, “This isn’t the news we hoped for, but our work is not done and hope is not lost. We must broaden the fight for justice on behalf of Jacob Blake and the countless other Black victims of racial injustice and police brutality.” He added, “We will continue to press forward with our own investigation and fight for systemic change in policing and transparency at all levels. We urge Americans to continue to raise their voices and demand change in peaceful and positive ways during this emotional time.”
Authorities called in the Wisconsin National Guard in preparation of possible unrest. When Blake was first shot in August, businesses and a government building were engulfed in arson fires as protesters and rioters squared off with police. After days of unrest, a 17-year-old Illinois youth named Kyle Rittenhouse shot three people, killing two, in a chaotic scene that started when one of the men who was shot, Joseph Rosenbaum, chased Rittenhouse into a car dealership parking lot. Rittenhouse is now facing homicide charges, although his attorneys claim self defense). He was in court for an arraignment.
“This is a tragedy, first and foremost for Jacob Blake,” said Graveley. “This is a tragedy for those who love Jacob Blake.” He said he had a conversation with Blake’s children, who were in the vehicle. He said he had thought of what the impact of seeing the gunshots on Blake’s children would be.
“Clearly this has been a tragedy for this community. We have seen based on the results of what has happened in the aftermath that there are…people who come here who are capable of expressing their anger in these moments by burning these things down,” said Graveley. He said the officers’ whole lives have been judged by a few seconds. “There’s a tragedy there,” he said, adding that the officers’ families were affected.
Authorities clearly don’t want to repeat the missteps of the summer, when they were late to get the National Guard on the streets. “At the request of local authorities, Gov. Tony Evers has authorized the Wisconsin National Guard to support local law enforcement authorities in Kenosha after officials there requested the Guard’s assistance to help ensure public safety,” Governor Tony Evers said in a press release before DA Mike Graveley announced his decision on whether to charge Sheskey. Five hundred Guard troops were mobilized. The city also passed an emergency declaration in an attempt to prevent the chaos that erupted before.
Under Wisconsin law, “A person may employ deadly force against another, if the person reasonably believes that force is necessary to protect a 3rd-person or one’s self from imminent death or great bodily harm.” Sheskey’s lawyer previously told CNN that the officer says Blake “held a knife in his hand and twisted his body toward the officer.”
Sheskey’s attorney told CNN a second officer also saw Blake twist toward Sheskey with a knife. “That officer said he too would have opened fire but did not have a clear angle,” the lawyer told CNN.
“We want to send out the message that no matter what the decision is we are seeking non-violence,” Tanya McLean, executive director of Leaders of Kenosha, said in a press conference on January 4, according to the Kenosha News. “We want everyone to come out, make as much noise as you want, but we don’t want any destruction of property or businesses. We don’t want anyone harmed.”
Jacob Blake’s father says his son is paralyzed and it will take a miracle for him to walk again. His uncle spoke at a press conference before the decision was announced; “Sheskey needs to be fired, indicted, have his day in court and be convicted,” Justin Blake said, the Kenosha News reported. “Until we get that as a Blake family, we’re not leaving Kenosha, Wisconsin. The Blake family, one day, will get justice.” A GoFundMe page for Blake raised more than $2.3 million.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. The Wisconsin Department of Justice Previously Said Sheskey Fired the Weapon Towards Blake’s Back & Used a Taser to Try to Stop Him First; Graveley Didn’t Believe the State Could Disprove Self Defense
The DA said that he has never been an individual who has experienced going to work “knowing I might face armed persons who might try to end my life.” He also said he has never had to deal with implicit racial bias in his life.
“What I do bring to this decision is almost three decades as a prosecutor making charging decisions,” he said. “I have my entire professional life tried to keep this community safe.” He explained that the officers knew there was a warrant for Blake’s arrest when they went to the scene.
On the question of self defense, a jury would have been asked did Sheskey reasonably believe that the shooting was necessary to prevent being stabbed by him or someone else being in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm, Graveley said. He explained that the reasonable belief must be considered from the “shoes of Officer Sheskey” with the “information and training available at that moment.”
He said Wisconsin law puts the burden on prosecutors to prove there was no self defense claim. “I do not believe the state… would be able to prove that the privilege of self defense is not available in this case.”
Graveley asked people to consider whether “this was a domestic abuse case.” Number two, whether Blake was armed. Number three, what physical evidence shows. “For instance can we talk a little bit about entrance wounds to the body of Jacob Blake today.” Number four, what does the independent use-of-force expert conclude is reasonable. “When a jury heard and thought about this case” that an independent use of force expert decided “that each decision by the officers in this case are…appropriate and reasonable uses of force. That would be decisive to a jury.
Police knew there was a vehicle in dispute, Blake had the keys, and the woman who called police was worried that he would crash it. The officers were told Blake was wanted on a felony arrest warrant for domestic violence and sexual assault. The officer saw Blake putting “a child in the disputed vehicle.” He hears the woman yell, “It’s him. He has my keys. It’s my car.”
Sheskey said Blake declared his intention, “I’m taking the kid, and I’m taking the car,” said Graveley. A civilian witness and officer heard a similar comment from the woman.
The investigation was turned over to the Wisconsin Department of Justice (DOJ) Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI). In October, the DOJ completed its investigation into the shooting, which occurred on the evening of Sunday, August 23, 2020.
“Kenosha Police Department officers were dispatched to a residence in the 2800 block of 40th Street after a female caller reported that her boyfriend was present and was not supposed to be on the premises,” the DOJ release says.
“During the incident, officers attempted to arrest Jacob S. Blake, age 29. After the initial attempt to arrest Mr. Blake, Kenosha Police Officer Rusten Sheskey deployed a taser to attempt to stop Mr. Blake. When that attempt failed, Kenosha Police Officer Vincent Arenas also deployed his taser, however that taser was also not successful in stopping Mr. Blake,” according to DOJ.
“Mr. Blake walked around his vehicle, opened the driver’s side door, and leaned forward. While holding onto Mr. Blake’s shirt, Officer Rusten Sheskey fired his service weapon 7 times. Officer Sheskey fired the weapon towards Mr. Blake’s back. No other officer fired their weapon. Kenosha Police Department does not have body cameras, therefore the officers were not wearing body cameras.”
According to the release: “The shooting officer, Kenosha Police Officer Rusten Sheskey, has been a law enforcement officer with Kenosha Police Department for seven years. Kenosha Police Officer Vincent Arenas has served with Kenosha Police Department since February 2019, with prior service with the United States Capitol Police Department. Also present was Kenosha Police Officer Brittany Meronek who joined Kenosha Police Department in January of this year.”
In November, a sexual assault charge against Blake was dropped in exchange for his guilty pleas to two counts of disorderly conduct and domestic abuse. court records show. He received two years probation. Authorities also asked a retired police chief, Noble Wray, to analyze the use of force used by Sheskey.
2. Blake ‘Admitted That He had a Knife in His Possession,’ the DOJ Says
During the investigation following the initial incident, Blake “admitted that he had a knife in his possession. DCI agents recovered a knife from the driver’s side floorboard of Mr. Blake’s vehicle. A search of the vehicle located no additional weapons,” the DOJ revealed. The DOJ never clarified whether Blake had the knife in his hand as he walked toward the car.
According to the Chicago Sun Times, 22-year-old witness Raysean White, said he heard officers yell, “Drop the knife! Drop the knife!” before the shooting occurred.
“DCI is leading this investigation and is assisted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Wisconsin State Patrol and Kenosha County Sheriff’s Office. All involved law enforcement are fully cooperating with DCI during this investigation. The involved officers have been placed on administrative leave,” the release said.
The DCI had:
Conducted 88 witness interviews,
Collected 102 evidence items,
Downloaded 28 videos for review,
Issued 4 search warrants, and,
Dedicated over 600 hours working on this case as of Saturday, August 29, 2020.
A photo shared by WISN-TV and pictures on Facebook showed Blake with multiple children, and posts on Facebook indicated that he is a father. His attorney told CNN that his children, ages 3, 5 and 8, were in the car at the time of the shooting.
The Kenosha News also reported that the shooting occurred in front of the man’s children.
Crump confirmed that in his statement. “Blake’s three sons were only a few feet away and witnessed police shoot their father,” he wrote. “His three sons witnessed their father collapse after being riddled with bullets. Their irresponsible, reckless, and inhumane actions nearly cost the life of a man who was simply trying to do the right thing by intervening in a domestic incident. It’s a miracle he’s still alive.”
This is 29-year-old Jacob Blake who was shot by Kenosha police. His fiancé shared this picture with us. pic.twitter.com/6Si9lkCPFu
— Sarah Thamer (@SarahThamerNews) August 24, 2020
Governor Evers’ initial statement on Twitter continued:
We stand with all those who have and continue to demand justice, equity, and accountability for Black lives in our country—lives like those of George Floyd, of Breonna Taylor, Tony Robinson, Dontre Hamilton, Ernest Lacy, and Sylville Smith. And we stand against excessive use of force and immediate escalation when engaging with Black Wisconsinites. I have said all along that although we must offer our empathy, equally important is our action. In the coming days, we will demand just that of elected officials in our state who have failed to recognize the racism in our state and our country for far too long.
3. Sheskey Has Worked as a Bicycle Officer & for a Campus Police Department
Rusten Sheskey is a Kenosha police officer who has worked as a bicycle officer and for a campus Police Department.
Sheskey has served in the Kenosha police bike unit and was an officer with the department for 6.5 years when he gave an interview to a local newspaper about his job. He worked with the UW-Parkside Police department for three years before that, according to an article that interviewed him in The Kenosha News.
He said his grandfather worked for the city for 33 years. Sheskey said it was easier for people to talk to officers on bicycles. “It kind of takes the whole car away, obviously; you don’t have the windows rolled up. People wave us down for everything, from talking about their problems in the neighborhood to just to say hi and talk about the bikes. It definitely gets us out a lot more.”
He said he raced in high school and does mountain biking for fun. He told Kenosha News,
What I like most is that you’re dealing with people on perhaps the worst day of their lives and you can try and help them as much as you can and make that day a little bit better. And that, for the most part, people trust us to do that for them. And it’s a huge responsibility, and I really like trying to help the people. We may not be able to make a situation right, or better, but we can maybe make it a little easier for them to handle during that time. We’re in a public service job, a customer service job, and the public is our customer. I think that, especially with the officers that we have here, everybody strives to make sure that the public feels served and happy with the services they receive. A lot of officers go way out of their way to make sure that that’s done. … I think the KPD really embraces that.
Sheskey’s brother works as an education administrator.
According to Sheskey’s LinkedIn page and an old newspaper article on him, he previously worked as a “CSO at University of Wisconsin-Parkside.” An old article in the Racine Journal-Times ran a photo of Sheskey, saying,
University police officer Rusten Sheskey is on duty in the lobby of the Pike River suites dormitory, as police are assigned to dorms, in response to three alleged hate crimes at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, Thursday February 2, 2012. University authorities reported that a noose was found in a campus dorm, a second noose and a note that threatened the student who reported the noose, and fliers that named about a dozen African-American students and said they would die in two days
Wisconsin’s governor said previously that Blake, 29, was shot “in the back multiple times.
4. The Graphic Video Shows the Shooting Happened at Very Close Rang
⚠️Warning Police Violence ⚠️
I’ve never seen such a casual street execution…
They shot another Black Man 7 times in the back.
Kenosha #Wisconsin. He is in critical condition.
— Terrence Daniels (Captain 🍀 Planet) (@Terrence_STR) August 24, 2020
The video shows three officers, including Rusten Sheskey, standing with Blake before he walks away from them. Then, an officer with gun drawn follows Blake to the driver’s side of his car. There are multiple people in the area. A second officer is right behind Blake. Blake, who is Black, gets in the car. The officer, who is white, then appears to shoot multiple times into the door at Blake’s back.
Wow. This Black man was shot several times in the back by @KenoshaPolice today. He was getting into his car after apparently breaking up a fight between two women. He’s in critical condition now. We demand JUSTICE! #BlackLivesMatter pic.twitter.com/I1reDEp4nw
— Ben Crump (@AttorneyCrump) August 24, 2020
Here’s a video from another vantage point. A woman named Chyna Smith posted it on Facebook and wrote, “He was just bbq for his son bday they shot an unarmed black man in front of his sons.”
The officer who fires appears to be grabbing Blake’s white shirt while firing, and it doesn’t look like Blake turned to face the officer. A second officer has his gun drawn.
Police Shooting man 7 times in back,” he wrote. “Why the f*** you shoot him that many times?” a man shouts at the officer in the video.
Here are some screenshots from the video.
In a statement posted to his Twitter page, civil rights attorney Ben Crump said he is representing Blake’s family. His release says Blake is a “Black man who was shot in the back several times by Kenosha police.”
The statement says Blake “was helping to deescalate a domestic incident when police drew their weapons and tasered him. As he was walking away to check on his children, police fired their weapons several times into his back at point blank range.”
5. Sheskey Shared Law Enforcement Memes on Social Media & a Flag With a Thin Blue Line
Sheskey has a Pinterest page with law enforcement quotes and memes. He has a privatized Instagram page with only a profile picture of a dog visible. On Facebook, the only post visible is an American flag with a thin blue line.
He has a YouTube channel with a few videos on it. One shows him doing a cold water challenge in Lake Michigan. Some of his workouts are posted online.
Here are some of the memes he shared.
In his press release calling in the Guard, Evers said, “We are continuing to work with our local partners in the Kenosha area to ensure they have the state support they need, just as we have in the past. Our members of the National Guard will be on hand to support local first responders, ensure Kenoshans are able to assemble safely, and to protect critical infrastructure as necessary.”
Pursuant to Section 321.39(1)(a) of the Wisconsin Statutes, the governor “ordered into state active duty members of the Wisconsin National Guard deemed necessary to support local law enforcement and first responders in Kenosha,” says the release.
“As has been the case under previous missions, Guard members called to active duty may only be used to provide support to local law enforcement and to protect critical infrastructure and cultural institutions necessary for the well-being of the community, and to provide support to first responders such as the Kenosha Fire Department. The National Guard may not be used to impede the ability of people to peacefully protest or impede the ability of the media to report on this situation.”
“We work hand-in-hand with communities across Wisconsin to help ensure public safety, and this mobilization represents the culmination of months of planning and partnership with Kenosha,” said Maj. Gen. Paul Knapp, Wisconsin’s adjutant general, in the news release. “We are Citizen Soldiers and Airmen who live and work in the same communities as the citizens we serve, and we are always there for our neighbors when they need us.”