The white Kenosha police officer who shot and severely wounded Jacob Blake last summer won’t face criminal charges, Wisconsin prosecutors announced Tuesday afternoon.
Blake, who is Black, was reaching into his car as police tried to arrest him Aug. 23. The officer, Rusten Sheskey, fired multiple shots into his back, leaving him partially paralyzed. Blake also will not face any charges, prosecutors said.
The shooting, which took place about three months after George Floyd’s killing by Minneapolis police, sparked outrage and two days of chaotic street demonstrations after video of it was posted in social media.
Announcing the decision not to bring charges, Kenosha County District Attorney Mike Graveley said he could not disprove Sheskey’s self-defense claim.
Graveley said he had notified Blake.
“This was a tragedy, first and foremost, for Jacob Blake, who still suffers from grievous injuries,” Graveley said. “These are life-lasting injuries that he suffers from today.”
And the district attorney called for calm.
“I want to acknowledge and say that I really feel like the Blake family, and Mr. Blake himself, have tried to be real, truly positive forces in the community, asking the community to have peaceful, but real dialogue about change that I think is necessary in this community, outlined by the issues exposed in this case,” Graveley said.
After the charging decision was announced, Blake’s family expressed despair, saying the video made it clear that Sheskey had acted improperly.
“When you go home tonight, eat well and love your family and say everything you can to your loved ones,” Blake’s uncle Justin Blake said, “because guarantee is not tomorrow.”
Ben Crump, an attorney for the family, said the decision “further destroys trust in our justice system” and sends a message that it is OK for police to abuse their power.
He said he will continue to move forward with a lawsuit and fight for systemic change in policing.
“We feel this decision failed not only Jacob and his family, but the community that protested and demanded justice,” Crump and his co-counsel said in a statement, adding: “We urge Americans to continue to raise their voices and demand change in peaceful and positive ways during this emotional time.”
After the announcement, members of Blake’s family and dozens of supporters gathered near downtown Kenosha and led a car caravan through quiet neighborhoods after dark, yelling “We’re ready for change!” and “Wake up, Kenosha!”
As the caravan started, a half-dozen armored vehicles drove past the group.
Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers announced Monday he was mobilizing 500 National Guard troops in case of civil unrest.
Blake, 29, was discharged from a Milwaukee hospital in October and was undergoing treatment at an Illinois rehabilitation clinic, his uncle told the Associated Press.
During civil unrest two nights after the Blake shooting last August, Illinois teenager Kyle Rittenhouse traveled to Kenosha and shot three protesters, killing two of them.
At a hearing Tuesday afternoon, Rittenhouse pleaded not guilty to all seven charges against him.
Rittenhouse, who turned 18 on Sunday, appeared via Zoom from his attorney’s office for the Kenosha County arraignment and spoke only briefly when asked whether he understands that the conditions of his bail remain in effect.
“Yes, sir,” he answered.
Rittenhouse’s case was assigned to Judge Bruce E. Schroeder, who has decades of experience on the Kenosha County bench.
Rittenhouse’s attorneys have argued his Aug. 25 shootings were acts of self-defense by a patriot who was trying to protect the city during civil unrest following Blake’s shooting. The teen allegedly used a military-style rifle after arriving in the Wisconsin city from his home in Antioch, Illinois, about 20 miles southwest.
Rittenhouse, a law-enforcement enthusiast, arrived in downtown Kenosha in response to a call by self-appointed militia members to protect the city’s businesses, according to prosecutors.
On the streets that night, Rittenhouse is seen on video recordings mingling with militia members. The shootings took place in separate locations. Prosecutors say the teen fired an AR-15-style rifle, killing Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, and Anthony Huber, 26, and wounding Gaige Grosskreutz, 26.
The charges against Rittenhouse include first-degree intentional homicide — Wisconsin’s equivalent of first-degree murder — in connection with Huber’s death, first-degree reckless homicide, attempted first-degree intentional homicide, two counts of first-degree reckless endangerment, possession of a dangerous weapon by a person under 18, and a curfew violation.
All but the gun and curfew charges are felonies. If convicted of the murder count, Rittenhouse would face a mandatory life sentence.
Rittenhouse, who is white, walked free on a $2 million bail in November after his extradition from Illinois.
In an October court filing, Rittenhouse’s lawyers characterized the militia members as “citizens who responded to their civic duty to help the community.”
His case has become a rallying point among some conservatives.
But the city of Kenosha and Kenosha County face claims totaling $20 million from Grosskreutz and the parents of Huber. The claims allege the city and county were negligent in their response to the unrest over the Blake shooting.