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Minneapolis Police Won't Be Charged in Fatal Shooting of Jamal Clark

No charges will be filed against the two Minneapolis officers involved in the shooting death last fall of Jamar Clark, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman announced Wednesday, citing DNA and other evidence that Clark had a hand on one officer's gun during a struggle and was not handcuffed when shot.

By Paul Walsh

No charges will be filed against the two Minneapolis officers involved in the shooting death last fall of Jamar Clark, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman announced Wednesday, citing DNA and other evidence that Clark had a hand on one officer's gun during a struggle and was not handcuffed when shot.

For more than 30 minutes in a downtown Minneapolis news conference and with Clark's family and supporters present, Freeman laid out in meticulous detail the evidence that led to his decision and showed video from the scene.

Clark, 24, a black man, was shot in the head during the scuffle with the two white Minneapolis police officers on Nov. 15. The shooting led to international attention, widespread local protests, and an 18-day encampment outside the police department's Fourth Precinct in north Minneapolis, near the site of the shooting.

In the prelude to rolling out the evidence and his decision, Freeman nodded to the spate of killings of citizens by police officers in Chicago, Cleveland and elsewhere in the past year or so, saying, "This case is not at all similar to other seen around the country," he said. The officers "did not have an opportunity to withdraw" from the conflict with Clark.

Freeman said the investigation, led by the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension with help from the FBI, found that:

-- Clark was not handcuffed, as some witnesses contended, when he struggled with two officers.

-- Clark had his hand on officer Mark Ringgenberg's handgun during the scuffle on the ground and ignored repeated orders to remove his hand from the weapon.

-- During the altercation, Clark said more than once, "I'm ready to die."

Freeman brought with him to the highly anticipated announcement evidence from the investigation into Clark's death on a North Side street as well as video that law enforcement collected from the scene that night. Much of what the investigation found, including video, was being posted Wednesday on the county attorney's website. Freeman said "this degree of transparency ... unprecedented."

After Freeman announced his decision, activists at the news conference challenged him, saying he had disregarded statements by witnesses at the scene.

Plans for two gatherings in response to Freeman's decision are in the works. A rally organized by Justice4Jamar, is scheduled to start at 5 p.m. at Plymouth and James Avenues N., near where Clark was shot. The groups Black Lives Matter Minneapolis and Justice4Jamar announced on Facebook a gathering at 6 p.m. Wednesday in Elliot Park, just south of downtown.

On the North Side, some businesses announced early in the afternoon that they were closing, including Cub Foods on Broadway, one of the few supermarket options for residents in that part of the city.

According to Freeman, citing the evidence presented to him:

Officers told Clark to take his hands out of his pockets and he wouldn't. Ringgenberg, who had initially taken his gun out of its holster, put the gun back in the holster and grabbed Clark's right wrist. Officer Dustin Schwarze grabbed Clark's other arm and dropped his handcuffs while trying to cuff him. Ringgenberg then tried a takedown move of Clark, as he had been trained to do, and they both fell to the ground with Ringgenberg's back to Clark's stomach.

Ringgenberg felt his holstered gun go from his hip to the small of his back. Ringgenberg reached back and felt Clark's hand on his gun. He repeatedly told Schwarze: "He's got my gun, he's got my gun."

Schwarze put his gun to edge of Clark's mouth and said, "Let go or I'm going to shoot you."

Schwarze said Clark looked at him and said "I'm ready to die."

Schwarze pulled the trigger once, but the slide caught. He pulled the trigger again and the gun went off, 61 seconds after the officers first encountered Clark.

Freeman said the handcuffs were found afterward in the grass near where Clark had been shot. Freeman said they were unclasped and had Clark's blood on them on one side, leaving investigators to conclude they were not on Clark when Schwarze fired.

Also, Freeman continued, there was no DNA from Clark on the inside of the handcuffs. Clark's DNA was found on the grip of Ringgenberg's gun, the county attorney added.

Video was then shown of some of the events that Freeman chronicled. As the video being displayed showed Ringgenberg taking down Clark, someone shouts to Freeman, "How is that resisting?"

Once Freeman offered to take questions, Clark supporters peppered him with questions and statements.

One person said Freeman did not give a "fair and accurate account" of what happened. Raeisha Williams, communications director for Minneapolis NAACP and a City Council candidate, said, "If the city burns, it's on your hands."

When asked, Freeman acknowledged that only the officers heard Clark say, "I'm ready to die."

Nekima Levy-Pounds, head of the Minneapolis chapter of the NAACP, attended Freeman's news conference and said to him, "You did not give any credence or credibility to what the witnesses on the North Side had to say. You have not held one single officer accountable who has killed someone."

Jeremy Baker, 41, Clark's cousin, left the room upon hearing Freeman say no charges would be filed and said, "They killed my cousin! They shot him in the head. Are you serious? This is so sad."

The police union has contended almost from the day of the shooting that an uncuffed Clark had his hand on one of the officers' guns when he was shot. Activists have said that's not true and that Clark was handcuffed at the time.

Police had been called on a report that Clark assaulted his girlfriend and blocked paramedics from trying to treat her on the street in the 1600 block of Plymouth Avenue N. Clark died the next day.

Ringgenberg, 30, and Schwarze, 29, were placed on administrative leave but returned to police desk jobs in January. Both officers have more than seven years of policing experience, including the past 17 months with Minneapolis. Neither has had any disciplinary actions since they joined the Minneapolis force, according to the police union.

Schwarze, while a Richfield police officer, is accused in a still-pending lawsuit to have deployed a Taser on the passenger of a vehicle pulled over by officers in December 2011. He also is accused of threatening to beat the tased victim and a second passenger if they got out of the vehicle.

While Ringgenberg was a San Diego police officer, he was sued in federal court in 2012 for alleged rough treatment of a suspect resisting arrest. The suit was dismissed.

The BCA investigated the Clark case and turned over its findings to Freeman in February. Earlier this month, Freeman reversed decades of precedent and announced he would not use a grand jury in police-involved shootings, including in the Clark case.

(c)2016 the Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

Caroline Cournoyer is GOVERNING's senior web editor.
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