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No charges in Jacob Blake shooting; decision ‘further destroys trust in our justice system,’ family attorney says

The announcement comes almost five months after Blake was shot by a police officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Blake, 29, was leaning into an SUV when Officer Rusten Sheskey opened fire.

Justin Blake, Jacob Blake’s uncle, leads dozens on a march and protest around Kenosha on Tuesday evening after District Attorney Michael Graveley announced that no charges will be filed against the Kenosha police officer who shot Jacob Blake.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

KENOSHA, Wis. — The police officer who shot Jacob Blake seven times last year will not face criminal charges.

Kenosha County District Attorney Michael Graveley expressed remorse for Blake’s injuries while saying the officers were ultimately justified in the shooting Aug. 23.

For two hours in a Kenosha banquet hall, Graveley presented 911 calls, video and statements gathered during an investigation.

Graveley said he didn’t believe he could convince a jury that Kenosha Police Officer Rusten Sheskey, who shot Blake, didn’t act in self-defense.

Blake also won’t face any charges stemming from the incident, Graveley said.

In this photo from Kenosha County Court video, Jacob Blake answers questions during a hearing Friday, Sept. 4. in Kenosha, Wis. Blake remains paralyzed from the waist down, his family says.
In this photo from Kenosha County Court video, Jacob Blake answers questions during a hearing Friday, Sept. 4. in Kenosha, Wis. Blake remains paralyzed from the waist down, his family says.
AP

“My belief is that this is not a case where there would be any dispute about any of the factual circumstance of this case except for one piece of law, and that is self-defense,” Graveley said. “Remember these are police officers, who are uniformed officers; they’re called to the scene on a designated domestic abuse call. When they get there, they know there is an arrest warrant for Jacob Blake, and they take actions at that time.”

Graveley’s decision comes almost five months after Blake was shot, triggering days of civil unrest in the southeastern Wisconsin city. Blake, 29, was leaning into an SUV when Sheskey opened fire. Blake’s three children were in the back seat.

Graveley said he told Blake of his decision minutes before the news conference.

“This is a tragedy for all those who love Jacob Blake,” Graveley said. “I really feel like the Blake family ... have tried to be positive forces in the community.”

The shooting sparked protests in Kenosha. During one nighttime march two nights later, two protesters were killed and one was wounded when a 17-year-old from Antioch, Illinois, opened fire with an assault-style weapon.

That teen, Kyle Rittenhouse, had left his home and traveled to Kenosha to help protect businesses from looters, prosecutors have said. Rittenhouse, now 18, faces charges in Wisconsin that include intentional homicide. He pleaded not guilty on Tuesday.

Blake remains paralyzed from the waist down, according to his family. He attended middle school and high school in Evanston, where his grandfather pastored a church for many years.

“His pain is just not in a good place,” Blake’s father, also named Jacob Blake, said Tuesday. “One out of every six days is good. He may have two to three good days in a month. ... He’s trying so hard, trying to be normal, but it ain’t working.”

Justin Blake, Jacob Blake’s uncle, along with their attorney, Ben Crump, and other members of the family’s legal team, held a news conference elsewhere in Kenosha to denounce the decision while Graveley gave a PowerPoint presentation to the media.

“Officer Sheskey’s actions sparked outrage and advocacy throughout the country, but the District Attorney’s decision not to charge the officer who shot Jacob in the back multiple times, leaving him paralyzed, further destroys trust in our justice system,” Crump said in a statement. “This sends the wrong message to police officers throughout the country.”

Graveley on Tuesday disputed that Blake was shot in the back seven times. He said they examined the shooting, and four wounds were in the back, while three were in his side.

This, he said, is because it is “incontrovertible that Jacob Blake was armed with a knife” as he circled the SUV — and that Blake admitted that to investigators. As officers wrestled with Blake, Graveley said, he motioned toward the officers with the knife, exposing his left side where he was shot.

On video shown at the news conference, officers can be heard yelling, “Drop the knife!” — they would not be so specific unless Blake were armed, Graveley told reporters.

Graveley said officers and Blake wrestled several times on the ground before Blake broke loose and walked to the SUV. Blake also was unusually resistant to Tasers, Graveley added.

Noble Wray, a use-of-force expert and former police chief of Madison, Wisconsin, was recruited by the Kenosha County district attorney to conduct an independent investigation into the police shooting.

Wray said as a Black man he was emotionally troubled when he first saw the videos on social media of Blake being shot and believed the officers’ actions were inexcusable.

Kenosha County (Wisc.) District Attorney Michael Graveley held a news conference Tuesday to announce no charges would be filed in the shooting of Jacob Blake, who was shot seven times in the back by a Kenosha police officer last year.
Kenosha County (Wisconsin) District Attorney Michael Graveley held a news conference Tuesday to announce no charges would be filed in the shooting of Jacob Blake, who was shot seven times in the back by a Kenosha police officer last year.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

But that changed as he conducted his investigation.

“The criminal justice system is a difficult system,” Wray said. “It has a history of racism on top of racism, and we are trying to work through this. But we cannot work through this by just trying to find a decision that is comfortable with people.”

“We’ve got to find the right decision. It’s got to be grounded in truth, it’s got to be grounded in facts,” Wray said.

Earlier Tuesday, Blake’s father said their fight against police brutality continues. The elder Blake said he’s already planning to take his fight to Washington on Jan. 17 to lobby members of Congress.

He said he will be there along with the families of Louisville’s Breonna Taylor and Minneapolis’ George Floyd, as well as others whose lives have been disrupted by police violence.

“We are going to Washington, D.C., to meet with the House leaders,” the elder Blake said Tuesday, and he hoped to meet with Senate leaders, as well.

He also wants to abolish legal protections that help shield officers from prosecution for their on-duty conduct; those protections, generally known as the Law Enforcement Officer Bill of Rights, are written into law in many states, including Wisconsin — and Illinois.

More than a thousand supporters and Black Lives Matter protesters join the family of Jacob Blake to march through the streets of Kenosha, six days after he was shot in the back by a police officer in the Wisconsin city, Saturday, Aug. 29, 2020.
More than a thousand supporters and Black Lives Matter protesters joined the family of Jacob Blake to march through the streets of Kenosha six days after he was shot.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times