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Justice Dept. won’t pursue federal charges against Wis. officer in Jacob Blake shooting

Supporters hold candles at a rally for Jacob Blake in January in Kenosha, Wis. (Morry Gash/AP)
Supporters hold candles at a rally for Jacob Blake in January in Kenosha, Wis. (Morry Gash/AP)
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The Justice Department said Friday that it would not seek federal criminal civil rights charges against police officer Rusten Sheskey of Kenosha, Wis., in the shooting of a Black man last summer that reignited social-justice protests.

The department said there was insufficient evidence to prove that Sheskey willfully used excessive force. Kenosha County District Attorney Michael Graveley announced in January that his office would not seek charges against Sheskey, who had been on administrative leave since the shooting. He returned to the job in April and was not disciplined by the police department.

Jacob Blake, now 30, was left partially paralyzed after Sheskey, who is White, fired seven times into his back as Blake attempted to enter a sport utility vehicle that he had been driving during the August 2020 incident.

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In his written report, Graveley said Blake was carrying an open knife in his right hand. The report also says video footage showed Blake carrying a knife. Blake’s uncle disputed the characterization that he was brandishing the weapon, while an attorney for the family described Blake as posing no threat.

The shooting set off a week of demonstrations in Kenosha, which in turn led to the fatal shootings of two men, allegedly by a 17-year-old who traveled 20 miles from his home to join armed men claiming to protect businesses in the city from rioters.

When he announced that he would not charge Sheskey early this year, Gravely said Blake’s encounter with the police was prompted when a woman called 911 to report him, and would be viewed as a domestic-abuse case based on the call and prior contacts between Blake and the woman, who was his girlfriend.

In a news release Friday, the Justice Department said federal prosecutors reviewed evidence collected from the FBI and state investigators, including police reports, statements from witnesses, photographs and videos.

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Under federal civil rights laws, prosecutors are required to establish that a police officer “willfully” deprived an individual of a constitutional right and acted deliberately to do something the law forbids, the department said.

“After a careful and thorough review, a team of experienced federal prosecutors determined that insufficient evidence exists to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the KPD officer willfully violated the federal criminal civil rights statutes,” the department said in the statement. “Accordingly, the review of this incident has been closed without a federal prosecution.”

Officials from the civil rights division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Wisconsin informed Blake’s family of the decision, according to the statement.

Before Sheskey shot Blake, officers Tasered him during a scuffle. Police officials said the officers were aware that Blake had an outstanding warrant for trespassing and sexual assault related to a domestic depute.

Three of Blake’s children were in the vehicle during the confrontation.