Former Minneapolis Police Chief Tony Bouza believes the two police officers exonerated by Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman last week acted in good faith in the shooting death of Jamar Clark last November. Bouza calls it a “tragic mistake.”
But he also thinks the two officers should have been charged with manslaughter.
Told of Bouza’s position, Freeman said: “It is obvious that Tony has not reviewed all of the evidence, as I have, but beyond that, I have no comment.”
Bouza was chief of police from 1980 through 1988. In subsequent years, he frequently served as an expert witness in court cases around the country, mostly for defendants against the police. He is the author of “Expert Witness,” one of about a dozen books he’s written, most of which deal with police strategy and policy. He lives in southwest Minneapolis.
“The law requires that officers can only use deadly force when deadly force is being used against them or someone in the area is using deadly force,” Bouza said.
In this case, Bouza said, it was wrong for officer Dustin Schwarze to shoot Clark, who had been wrestled to the ground by officer Mark Ringgenberg. Ringgenberg said in a sworn statement that as they tussled on the ground, he believed Clark was trying to take away his gun. Ringgenberg said he felt that he and Schwarze’s lives were in danger and he told Schwarze to shoot Clark.
Bouza said it is irrelevant that Ringgenberg thought Clark had his hand on his gun. That is different from having possession of it, he says. The DNA on the gun is not proof he was holding it, said Bouza. “It could have been that Clark’s hand brushed against the gun. It is not positively and definitively linked to Clark [the way] fingerprints would have been,” he said.
What should the officers have done? “They need to continue to struggle and get him under control,” said Bouza, “but they can’t shoot him.”
Freeman faced a dilemma, Bouza said.
“Nobody wants to punish two cops who are doing their jobs and acting in good faith,” he said. But Bouza believes the two should be prosecuted. “In the relationship between white cops and black citizens, you have an obligation to demonstrate the system will enforce the law.”
In his statement last week, Freeman said, “Clark was attempting to gain control of Ringgenberg’s firearm. Ringgenberg reasonably believed that if Clark had succeeded in removing his firearm from his holster, Clark would have shot both officers as well as exposing third parties to danger of injury by firearm.”
Freeman also cited Minnesota Statute § 609.504, which he said “provides that disarming or attempting to disarm a peace officer is a felony. An attempt to obtain control of the firearm of a peace officer presents a grave danger to the officer and bystanders.”
“The attempt alone suggests a willingness to use the firearm if successfully removed from the holster,” Freeman said. “Once removed, an assailant can instantaneously begin firing the weapon. There is no time for recovery. Even if the person is not ultimately successful, an attempt to gain control of an officer’s firearm creates a significant risk of injury.”
Here is how the state statute reads: “Whoever intentionally takes possession of a defensive device being carried by a peace officer or from the area within the officer’s immediate control, without the officer’s consent while the officer is engaged in the performance of official duties, is guilty of a crime and may be sentenced as provided in subdivision 3.”
Bouza’s argument is that Clark did not take possession.