SHEBOYGAN, Wis. — A Wisconsin police officer shot and killed a Black man on Thursday after the man allegedly chased a woman with a pair of knives, though the man’s family said police knew he had psychiatric issues and that they don’t think he would have been killed if he wasn’t Black.
The Sheboygan man’s family identified him as 32-year-old Kevan Ruffin, Sheboygan Press Media reported.
Christopher Domagalski, the police chief of the city north of Milwaukee along Lake Michigan, said that the county dispatch center got a call around 5:50 a.m. about a man armed with a pair of three-pronged martial arts knives running at a woman in the street.
The responding officer tried to talk to Ruffin from across the street, but Ruffin went after him with his knives, Domagalski said. The officer tried to use his stun gun on Ruffin but was forced to shoot him with his service weapon, he said.
Authorities have not released the officer’s name or race.
His body camera was recording at the time of the shooting, Domagalski said. The state Department of Justice is in the early stages of an investigation. The department issued a statement saying the officer has been put on administrative leave, which is standard in officer-involved shootings. Spokeswoman Gillian Drummond declined to comment.
The woman was taken to a hospital where she was treated and released.
Dozens of peopled mourned on the street where the shooting took place. Ruffin’s family and friends wailed from behind police tape. They described Ruffin as a “teddy bear” who was a former cheerleader at South High School and liked to teach himself languages.
Ruffin’s cousin, Shem Clayborn Jr., said Ruffin suffered from a mental disability and that police knew it. Court records show that Ruffin was charged with various crimes between 2008 and 2019 but was often found not guilty because of mental health issues or the charges were dismissed.
Sheriyah Appleton, another of Ruffin’s cousins, said she thinks that if Ruffin wasn’t Black, he would still be alive. She said police could have deescalated the situation if they had contacted his family.
“But because he was Black, he was considered as a threat from the beginning,” she said. “This stuff has been going on all around the world, this is why everyone is protesting, this is why we are upset. The color of our skin should not determine whether we are taken into custody or taken to the morgue.”
The American Civil Liberties Union’s Wisconsin chapter has called for a transparent investigation into Ruffin’s death.
“We need to know why Sheboygan police killed Mr. Ruffin instead of handling this in a nonviolent way,” said Chris Ott, the chapter’s executive director.
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