Tuesday afternoon, Kenosha’s top prosecutor held an hours-long press conference explaining why he would not bring charges against Rusten Sheskey, the white Kenosha Police Officer who in August shot Jacob Blake, who is Black.
Kenosha District Attorney Michael Graveley, who is white, explained how he came to his decision. He presented how the evidence would likely unfold in court, in what times felt like a trial all its own.
“And the questions, really the only issue in this case, would be do they [the police officers] have the right to the privilege of self defense,” he said.
Graveley argued he could not charge Rusten Sheskey because of self defense – which Wisconsin law says relies on a reasonable belief of officers that they or others will be in harm’s way. The top prosecutor presented multiple pieces of evidence that he says backs that reasonable belief of the Kenosha officers, including an arrest warrant and refusal to comply with an officer’s demands.
Over and over, Graveley justified self-defense by pointing to Blake holding a knife, saying that provided officers reason to believe Blake was a threat. But that justification clashes with Blake’s characterization.
Two days after Kenosha Police Officer Rusten Sheskey shot Jacob Blake seven times, Blake lay at Froedtert Hospital in Milwaukee. Under pain medication and falling in and out of consciousness, he spoke with two special agents from Wisconsin’s Division of Criminal Investigations.
In both the recorded interview and an interview the day before, Blake recognized he had knife on him, but he said the knife was something he always carried. He said he used it to attack possums and raccoons at night if he was threatened. He also said the knife was a gift with special importance.
Blake also told investigators he was attempting to get the knife away from officers. He said in the moment before the shooting, he was concerned that if police officers saw him with the knife, they could use it against him as a defense.
“So you intended to throw it?” asked one DCI agent.
“Not at the cops,” replied Blake. “Just throw it in my car.”
While Blake described himself as trying to throw the knife into the car, Graveley said the evidence provided by the police and two witnesses indicate they felt Blake was about to attack Officer Sheskey.
State law enacted in 2014 requires outside investigation of officer-involved shootings. After the State Department of Justice wrapped an investigation, Attorney General Josh Kaul selected an independent investigator to look at the findings. That investigator was former Madison Chief of Police Noble Wray.
Wray, who is Black, concluded the shooting was also within state law. But speaking on Tuesday, Wray said he recognized how many might not see Officer Sheskey’s use of force as proportional.
“It may be legal, it may be within policy, it may be with training,” he said. “But there still is a question with the public in terms of proportionality.”
DCI documents also reveal how Blake says Officers could have handled the situation differently. Blake, who has worked as a security guard, told investigators from his hospital bed that he would never have taken the option Officer Sheskey chose, even against someone stronger than himself.
“I was just trying to leave,” said Blake. “And he had the option to shoot my tires, even punch me. He could have tazed me, beat me with his nightstick.”
While the Kenosha DA has ended their investigation the Blake family is pursuing a civil lawsuit against the Kenosha Police Department, arguing Kenosha officers are negligently trained.
Many have decried the decision on social media, saying it was another injustice and part of a long legacy of state-sanctioned police violence toward Black people.
How does shooting a human being in the back up close 7 times not warrant charges?
That shouldn’t make sense or look like justice to anyone.
— Be A King (@BerniceKing) January 5, 2021
Civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who has represented Blake’s family, said the decision “further destroys trust in our justice system.” And Blake’s family members told major news outlets they would protest the decision in Washington DC and speak in front of Congress.
Meanwhile, a federal civil rights investigation into the shooting is still ongoing.
(PHOTO: Protesters demand the arrest of Rusten Sheskey on August 29th, 2020/ Jonah Chester)