The state’s top law enforcement agency has finished its three-month inquiry into the death of a man killed during a struggle with two Minneapolis police officers.
The findings have been given to the Hennepin County attorney’s office for review. The two officers involved have returned to work, but a union official is decrying the fact that they’re on desk duty — not patrolling the North Side streets where Jamar Clark was shot in the head Nov. 15. He died the next day.
The officers, Dustin Schwarze and Mark Ringgenberg, returned to work Jan. 6, as required by an arbitrator, said department spokesman Scott Seroka. They were assigned to office work in the Special Operations and Intelligence Division. The officers, who have declined repeated requests for comment, were placed on paid administrative leave soon after Clark’s death.
The police union contract requires that officers involved in critical events be returned to “normal duty” after seven days, said the union’s president, Lt. Bob Kroll. That means Schwarze and Ringgenberg should be back on patrol duty in the Fourth Precinct, he said.
The union has filed a grievance that Kroll believes will be successful.
“The department trampled the officer’s rights by using unethical stall tactics,” Kroll said in a text message. He declined to elaborate.
Clark, 24, a black man, was fatally shot in the head as he struggled with Schwarze and Ringgenberg, who are white, in the 1600 block of Plymouth Avenue N. Police said the officers answered a call about an assault and were then alerted that Clark interfered with paramedics tending to his girlfriend on the street.
Activists say Clark was unarmed and handcuffed when he was shot, an assertion denied by the police union. They say Clark had his hand on one of the officer’s guns before he was shot.
The Police Department asked the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension to investigate the shooting and the BCA turned its findings over to the Hennepin County attorney’s office for review Tuesday afternoon. The investigation remains open during the review process and the details are not made public, said BCA spokeswoman Jill Oliveira.
Prosecutors will review the file to ensure it is thorough, and additional investigation may be necessary, according to a statement from the county attorney’s office. Although it is difficult to predict how long the review will take, County Attorney Mike Freeman said he would like to have a decision on whether charges are brought by the end of March.
Kroll said he is optimistic that Schwarze and Ringgenberg will be cleared.
“I have faith in the BCA. I’m sure they completed a thorough and complete investigation,” Kroll said. “I look forward to (seeing) our officers’ good reputations restored.”
Details of the investigation will remain under seal until the case is closed. If the county attorney’s office declines to prosecute or a grand jury declines to indict the officers, the case file will become public.
On Tuesday, the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota (ACLU) and the Minneapolis NAACP sued the BCA and the state Department of Public Safety for release of all the videos related to Clark’s death. They claim that withholding the videos is a violation of the state’s Data Practices Act.
The FBI is also conducting its own investigation of the shooting, which will be reviewed by the U.S. attorney’s office in Minnesota as well as the U.S. Department of Justice. U.S. Attorney spokesman Ben Petok said Wednesday that the investigation is still ongoing and would not speculate how much longer it would take.
Seroka said the Police Department continues to respect the independent nature of the investigations. He said he didn’t know if the department was conducting an internal affairs review of the shooting.
Video at issue
Clark’s death triggered multiple protests, an 18-day encampment in front of the Fourth Precinct and a visit from the national president of the NAACP. The BCA collected several videos for its investigation, but says none of them show the entire event. Gov. Mark Dayton viewed one of the videos and said it was inconclusive.
Teresa Nelson, the ACLU’s legal director, said the investigation’s completion makes it clear that there aren’t any more barriers to release of the videos.
“I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the investigation was turned over to the county attorney on the same day we filed our suit,” she said.
Schwarze, 28, and Ringgenberg, 30, had been with the Police Department for 15 months when they encountered Clark that night. They most recently worked the midwatch shift from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m.
Schwarze’s attorney, Fred Bruno, said he wanted to let the investigations play out, adding that he was confident his client would be exonerated. Ringgenberg declined to comment through his attorney, Bob Sicoli.
Minneapolis NAACP President Nekima Levy-Pounds, who has played a key role in protests in the wake of Clark’s death, said she is not optimistic that the BCA’s findings will find the officers at fault in the shooting.
“The BCA has a terrible record of holding officers accountable for misconduct and cases in which officers have shot and killed civilians,” she said. “Part of the reason we called for a federal investigation into the shooting of Jamar Clark is because of a pattern of seeing state and local law enforcement agencies failing to hold themselves accountable.”
Staff writers Randy Furst and Stephen Montemayor contributed to this report.