Two Minneapolis police officers who fatally shot an unarmed black man during a Nov. 15, 2015, scuffle outside a house party won’t face disciplinary charges, authorities announced Friday.
The announcement came seven months after officers Mark Ringgenberg and Dustin Schwarze learned that they wouldn’t be held criminally liable for killing Jamar Clark.
The 24-year-old and several others had been in a fight at a house party when paramedics, then police, were summoned. When officers arrived, Clark was banging on the locked doors of the ambulance, trying to confront a woman he’d already injured during the fight, police said.
He was shot in the head about 61 seconds after officers arrived, as the situation quickly escalated from noncompliance to physical violence, a narrative released by the District Attorney’s office said. At first, officers couldn’t get Clark to remove his hands from his pockets. When they tried to handcuff him, he fought back.
Officers told investigators that Clark had landed on top of Ringgennberg during the scuffle and had his “whole hand” on the officer’s gun. Schwarze dropped the handcuffs he had pulled out to subdue Clark, unholstered his service pistol and held it to the side of Clark’s mouth.
“Let go or I’m gonna shoot you,” he said, according to the narrative.
Clark replied, “I’m ready to die.”
But some witnesses claimed that Clark was handcuffed when he was shot and said that Schwarze used a chokehold to take Clark to the ground, escalating the violence.
According to cellphone video obtained by The Washington Post, in the moments following the shooting, a woman could be heard, shrieking: “They killed Jamar! He’s dead! He’s dead!”
In the aftermath of the shooting, violent protests followed where at least five people were injured.
Minneapolis Police Chief Janeé Harteau conceded that tension grew amid a vacuum of information from police as criminal and internal investigations were conducted.
Harteau tried Friday to fill the void as she laid out the justification for not disciplining the two officers.
“Jamar Clark was not handcuffed, and the DNA evidence does show Clark grabbed officer Ringgenberg’s holster and gun,” she said.
“Both officers feared for the loss of life based on the belief that Clark was either in possession of the officer’s handgun or would imminently be in possession of the officer’s handgun if not stopped immediately,” she said.
She also said Schwarze did not put Clark in a chokehold but rather he grabbed him by the upper chest. Officers are not taught to use the move, but it’s not prohibited, she said.
Clark’s family is likely to file a civil lawsuit in the wake of the findings, their attorney, Albert Goins, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
The Justice Department told the newspaper it wouldn’t bring a federal case, saying there wasn’t enough evidence to show that the officers willfully deprived Clark of his civil rights.
“What [the family has] is a son who is gone to them in this life forever, and no apparent accountability by these officers,” Goines told the Star Tribune. “ … There has never been any official agency that seemed to take on the position that Jamal Clark was a victim in this shooting. They have treated these officers as if they were victims and had to be defended from facing criminal charges.”
Clark was one of 991 people killed by on-duty police officers in 2015, according to a Post database documenting police shootings. Another 776 people have been killed by police so far this year.
Twelve people were fatally shot by officers in Minnesota last year, and 36 unarmed black men were fatally by police officers nationwide in 2015, according to The Post.
Black Americans are 2.5 times as likely as white Americans to be shot and killed by police officers, The Post noted in a news analysis.
“And, when considering shootings confined within a single race, a black person shot and killed by police is more likely to have been unarmed than a white person,” according to The Post’s analysis. About 13 percent of all black people fatally shot by police between January 2015 and mid July were unarmed, compared with 7 percent of all white people.
A review by the Minneapolis Star Tribune conducted last year found that since 2000, at least 143 people have been killed by police in Minnesota, and no officers have been charged in any of these deaths.
Clark’s death and the July 6 fatal police shooting of Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minn., frequently headline discussions in the national debate about whether officers are too quick to use deadly force on black people.
Public officials acknowledged the high tensions but encouraged Minnesotans to remain peaceful.
“This has been a painful time for our entire community,” Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges said at Friday’s news conference. “I know that some will be angry about this decision and find it difficult to accept, and I get that.”
There were no reports of violent outbursts or massive protests, although a march was planned for Saturday to address police violence against black men.
“Friday’s decision reinforces the notion of why the African American community has no faith in our criminal justice system and the possibility of obtaining justice in officer-involved shooting cases,” Nekima Levy-Pounds, outgoing president of the Minneapolis NAACP told the Star Tribune.