No charges for Minneapolis officers in Jamar Clark death, prosecutor says
(CNN) — Minneapolis police Officers Mark Ringgenberg and Dustin Schwarze will not face charges in the November shooting death of 24-year-old Jamar Clark, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said Wednesday.
Schwarze shot Clark only after Ringgenberg scuffled with the young man, the prosecutor said, during which Clark took control of the officer’s gun and Ringgenberg told Schwarze to open fire.
Investigators concluded the officers acted in self-defense, he said.
“(Schwarze’s) actions were reasonable given both his observations and Ringgenberg’s plea,” Freeman said.
The shooting sparked demonstrations in Minneapolis, and Freeman’s announcement — which Clark’s family attended — angered community activists Wednesday.
“If the city burns down,” one woman shouted at Freeman, “it’s on your hands.”
Clark’s cousin, Cameron Clark, said Freeman’s version of what happened made no sense to him.
“I feel like the story is being made up, and it’s all lies,” he told CNN. “My cousin would never tell the cops to kill him,” referring to comments the officers said his cousin made during the encounter. “… His life was doing good. My cousin never told me he was ready to die.”
After the Freeman’s announcement, Clark supporters gathered near the street where he was shot.
‘A hard day’
Mayor Betsy Hodges said she supported the right of people to demonstrate peaceably.
“Today is a hard day for everyone in the city of Minneapolis,” she told reporters. “Many people are feeling hurt, anger, disappointment, frustration, mistrust in a system that has not worked for everyone. My heart breaks for the loss of Jamar Clark’s life and for the pain felt by everyone involved in this incident.”
Hodges said the shooting was still being investigated by the state as well as the U.S. Justice Department.
Minneapolis Police Chief Janee Harteau said Ringgenberg and Schwarze were assigned to “nonenforcement duties.”
Harteau said the department was prepared for peaceful demonstrations but will “ensure public safety for every one — that includes protesters, bystanders and police officers.”
The investigation included 122 Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension reports, 1,370 pages of autopsy reports, 21 DNA reports and 97 Minneapolis Police Department supplemental reports, all of which Freeman said took him 31 hours to read.
Freeman said he declined to present to the case to a grand jury so that his office could release all the reports related to the investigation. His office posted numerous investigative documents, photos and videos on its website.
Lt. Bob Kroll, president of the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis, said Ringgenberg and Schwarze anticipated the outcome of Freeman’s investigation.
“They knew that they had to do what they had to do that night,” he said. “They felt terrible about it. It’s a tragic thing to go through. Their families have been through hell.”
A scuffle turns deadly
The reports demonstrated that Clark had attacked his girlfriend, interfered with paramedics attempting to transport her to the hospital and refused officers’ demands to remove his hands from his pockets, Freeman said. Ringgenberg and Schwarze then took Clark to the ground in an attempt to place handcuffs on him, but during the scuffle, Ringgenberg landed on top of Clark, who then went for that officer’s gun, the prosecutor said.
According to Freeman, Ringgenberg said when he felt his gun move from his right hip to the small of his back, he reached back to the top of his gun and felt Clark’s “whole” hand on the weapon.
The officer told his partner, “He’s got my gun,” Freeman said.
“Ringgenberg believed he was going to die … because he had no control over his gun,” Freeman said. “Ringgenberg felt that Clark didn’t care what happened to him and remembered thinking that he didn’t want his partner to die with his gun.”
‘I’m ready to die’
Schwarze dropped the handcuffs and took out his gun, according to the prosecutor. Schwarze told investigators he put the gun to the edge of Clark’s mouth and said, “Let go or I’m gonna shoot you.”
Schwarze told investigators that Clark looked directly at him and said, “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,” according to the prosecutor.
The gun did not fire because the slide was partially pulled back, Freeman said. Schwarze heard Ringgenberg saying, “Shoot him.”
Schwarze pulled the trigger again and fired, the prosecutor said. Clark was shot about 61 seconds after the officers first confronted him.
“The evidence detailed … does not support the filing of criminal charges against Officers Dustin Schwarze or Mark Ringgenberg for the fatal shooting of Jamar Clark,” Freeman said.
“At the time he was shot, Clark was attempting to gain control of Ringgenberg’s firearm. Ringgenberg reasonably believed that if Clark had succeeded in removing his firearm from his holster, Clark would have shot both officers as well as exposing third parties to danger of injury by firearm.”
Details of Clark’s death have murky, prompting the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota and the NAACP chapter in Minneapolis to sue the state’s Department of Public Safety in hopes of getting videos that show the fatal shooting.
Clark was shot on November 15. He died at a hospital a day later.
Clark’s death led to widespread protests.
Five people were wounded in November when gunfire erupted near a Minneapolis police precinct where activists were demonstrating. Elsewhere, protesters stopped traffic on an interstate and disrupted travelers trying to get into an airport.
Several witnesses said Clark was restrained when a bullet struck him in the head. One witness told CNN he thought Clark was in handcuffs. Police and attorneys have disputed those allegations.
Freeman addressed the witnesses’ accounts during his Wednesday news conference, calling them conflicting. Of 20 witnesses, he said, two said Clark was not handcuffed, six said they were uncertain and 12 said he was handcuffed, though they disagreed on whether he was handcuffed with his hands in front of him, his hands behind him or only on his left hand.
Freeman said none of the witnesses reported hearing Clark say he was ready to die.
Forensic evidence further demonstrated that Clark had no wrist wounds that would have resulted from being handcuffed during the tussle, and blood found on the handcuffs suggests they were on the ground, not on Clark’s wrists, when he was shot, Freeman said.
“Forensic evidence and video evidence both support the belief that Clark was not handcuffed at any time through the altercation,” Freeman said.
Clark was African-American; the officers are white.
His death is the latest in a string of controversial police killings that include those of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri; Eric Garner in New York; and Freddie Gray in Baltimore.
Minneapolis on edge
Bracing for the possibility of more protests, Harteau released a message last week, warning activists and others that violence would not be tolerated.
“The Minneapolis Police Department has a long history of helping residents and those who visit our city exercise their First Amendment rights. It is also our responsibility to do everything in our power to keep people safe,” she said. “We will not tolerate acts of violence against anyone, and that includes acts of violence against our officers.”
The chief continued: “We will not allow people to set fires on our streets or occupy and vandalize our buildings. We will not allow people to jeopardize the safety of others by causing massive disruptions and hindering emergency vehicles from helping those in need. The (Minneapolis Police Department) has to, and will, strike a balance between First Amendment rights with the safety of everyone.”