A Kenosha police officer will not be charged over the August shooting of Jacob Blake, the Kenosha County district attorney announced Tuesday.
Rusten Sheskey, a seven-year veteran with the Kenosha Police Department in Wisconsin, shot 29-year-old Blake seven times in the back on Aug. 23, 2020, as he was walking to his car where his three children were seated.
Blake survived the shooting but was left paralyzed from the waist down.
At a press conference on Tuesday, Kenosha County District Attorney Michael Graveley announced, “No Kenosha law enforcement officer in this case will be charged with any criminal offense based on the facts and the laws.”
Graveley added that Blake would not be charged with any offenses.
“This was a tragedy first and foremost for Jacob Blake, who still suffers from grievous injuries,” he said.
A detailed report was also released summarizing the investigation. A federal civil rights investigation is ongoing.
Graveley said a determining factor in the decision not to press charges was the finding by an independent use-of-force expert that Sheskey had acted reasonably and appropriately.
“That would be decisive to a jury determining whether the privilege of self-defense could ever be defeated beyond a reasonable doubt,” he said.
Contrary to prior reporting, Blake had been armed with a knife and refused to drop it, Graveley said. Blake also later admitted to holding a knife, according to the district attorney.
In this context, Graveley said, the officer was justified in trying to stop him. “An armed man with a felony warrant who has resisted arrest appears to be about to flee in a disputed vehicle with one child in the back,” Graveley said.
But Ben Crump, Blake’s attorney, had previously said he had not been carrying a knife.
“For an officer to say that he thought that he was going … to get stabbed — where?” said Blake family attorney B’Ivory LaMarr at a news conference. “Show me in the video where did you feel like you were going to get stabbed?”
LaMarr added: “I think that this is just preposterous, and I think that the precedent that this sets is dangerous not only to the city of Kenosha, not only to the state of Wisconsin, but to our country.”
Reacting to the decision on Tuesday, Crump also expressed his disappointment on Twitter.
“We are immensely disappointed and feel this decision failed not only Jacob and his family but the community that protested and demanded justice,” he wrote.
Sheskey and the other officers who were involved in the shooting remain on administrative leave, the Kenosha Police Department said Tuesday evening.
In anticipation of protests over the charging decision, Kenosha’s city council on Monday night approved a resolution to declare an emergency, granting the mayor the power to respond quickly. Bracing for unrest, local businesses were boarded up and the city closed roads, limited bus routes, and installed protective fencing around public buildings.
Ahead of Tuesday’s charging decision, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers also mobilized 500 National Guard troops to assist local law enforcement.
“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,” the governor’s office said in a statement.
On Monday night, Blake’s family led a peaceful march through the city calling for Sheskey to be fired and charged with a crime.
“[Sheskey] tried to kill my son and could have killed my grandchildren,” Blake’s father, Jacob Blake Sr., said at a news conference. “He shot him seven times in his back unjustifiably.”
“Sheskey needs to be fired, indicted, have his day in court, and convicted,” Blake’s uncle, Justin Blake, told reporters. “Until we get that, the Blake family is not leaving Wisconsin.”
At a candlelight vigil for Blake outside the courthouse, Tanya McLean, a spokesperson for the family, said they did not want violence in the city “no matter what the decision is.”
“We want everybody to come out, make as much noise as you want, but we don’t want any destruction of property or businesses,” she said. “We are for nonviolence.”
In a statement after Tuesday’s announcement, Kenosha Mayor John Antaramian called on any demonstrators to do so peacefully.
“We respect your right to peaceful protest, and we will protect peaceful demonstrations,” he said, “but we will not — we can not — tolerate the violence we saw in our community earlier this year.”
Shortly after, Justin Blake led a group of a few dozen protesters on a march through frigid conditions in Kenosha, chanting his nephew’s name as police followed.
“Please, in the new year, stand in solidarity with us, eat right, get prayed up, because we’ve got a lot of work to do,” he told the group, reminding them to wear their masks during the coronavirus pandemic.
“People are dying every day,” he added. “Don’t let it be you. We need you in this fight to win it.”
Kyle Rittenhouse, an 18-year-old Trump supporter, was charged with murder for shooting and killing two people and injuring another during the protests. Rittenhouse, who has since been lionized by the far right as a hero and patriot, pleaded not guilty at a court hearing on Tuesday. His attorney has previously said he acted in self-defense.
After the Wisconsin Department of Justice completed its investigation into Blake’s shooting, the files were reviewed by retired Madison police chief Noble Wray, who was brought on as a consultant. Based on Wray’s review and analysis of the files, Graveley had independently made his charging decision.
On Aug. 23, Kenosha police officers responded outside a residence after a woman reported that her boyfriend, who was not supposed to be on the premises, was present, authorities said.
Witnesses said that Blake was trying to break up a fight between two women when officers tried to arrest him. Sheskey and another officer, Vincent Arenas, deployed their Tasers in an unsuccessful attempt to stop Blake, according to the Wisconsin Department of Justice.
While Blake walked to his car and opened the driver’s side door, Sheskey grabbed his shirt and shot him seven times in the back. Three of Blake’s sons were inside the vehicle.
The shooting was captured on cellphone video and widely shared on social media. Officers with the Kenosha Police Department do not have body cameras.
Blake’s family said he was unarmed at the time of the shooting. Wisconsin authorities said they had recovered a knife from the floor of the driver’s side of Blake’s vehicle.
Sheskey’s attorney has said that the officer shot Blake because he thought he was trying to kidnap a child and flee in his car.
In November, prosecutors dropped a third-degree sexual assault charge against Blake stemming from an incident in May. During a court hearing over Zoom, Blake pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct and domestic abuse and was sentenced to two years of probation, according to court records.
In a video message from his hospital bed last September, Blake described the pain he was in, saying, “Every 24 hours, it’s pain. It hurts to breathe. It hurts to sleep. It hurts to move from side to side. It hurts to eat.”
Justin Blake, his uncle, told the Washington Post that Blake was undergoing physical therapy in Chicago, where he was living in an undisclosed location.
“He can motor his arms and stimulate his muscles to hopefully get his lower region to work again,” Justin Blake said.