The two Minneapolis police officers involved in the November 2015 fatal shooting of Jamar Clark will not face discipline because an internal investigation found they did not violate the department’s use-of-force policy.
Officers Mark Ringgenberg and Dustin Schwarze were previously cleared of any criminal or civil wrongdoing by separate state and federal investigations completed over several months. They have been on desk duty since the Nov. 15 incident when Clark, 24, was shot in the head during a scuffle with the officers outside a north Minneapolis apartment complex.
“I have concluded these officers did not dictate the outcome of this incident. This was an outcome no one wanted,” Police Chief Janeé Harteau said at a short news conference Friday, her first extensive public comments about the case.
The shooting prompted weeks of protest, including an 18-day occupation outside the police precinct in north Minneapolis. Clark’s death, along with that of Philando Castile, who was shot by a St. Anthony police officer on July 6, are frequently mentioned in the national debate over fatal police shootings of black men and women.
Before the news conference, Harteau met with Clark’s biological mother, Irma Burns, and sister Danielle Burns at City Hall. They talked for about 25 minutes before lawyers cut the meeting short, saying they’d heard enough.
Clark’s other siblings declined to attend Friday’s meeting. Their attorney, Albert Goins, said Burns became emotional and exclaimed, “My son is dead — who do I go to for justice?”
“We’re disappointed, of course,” Goins said of the decision that internal policies weren’t violated. “But we’re somewhat flabbergasted by that because I know the standard is fairly low to have … an officer incur discipline.”
Goins pledged that a civil suit will be filed on behalf of several family members in the coming weeks.
The shooting exposed strained relations between police and communities of color where distrust of law enforcement runs deep.
In late March, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman announced that no state charges would be brought against the officers. He took the unprecedented move of eliminating the use of a grand jury to evaluate the police-involved shooting. The state’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension spent three months investigating the case.
A subsequent investigation by the FBI, the U.S. attorney and the U.S. Department of Justice concluded there was not enough evidence to show the two officers had willfully deprived Clark of his civil rights. U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger, leaning heavily on whether Clark was handcuffed by police before being shot and other factors, said there was insufficient evidence to bring a federal case.
Lt. Bob Kroll, president of the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis, the union representing police, applauded the decision exonerating the two officers, saying in a statement that the two men “can begin to put this unfortunate event behind them and focus on their careers.” He added, “We expect all members of the public to accept the process and outcome.”
Takedown move cleared
Critics have argued for nearly a year that officer Mark Ringgenberg needlessly escalated what was a routine encounter by violently taking Clark to the ground. Ringgenberg told investigators he learned the move while working at a department in San Diego, where officers were permitted to use takedowns when suspects display “active resistance” or refuse to comply while conveying a threat.
Freeman has said Ringgenberg’s technique was “not favored” by Minneapolis police, but he wouldn’t say the officers’ actions caused the deadly outcome.
A grainy video capturing Clark’s last moments appears to show Ringgenberg wrapping his right arm around Clark, bringing him to the ground on the left side of the frame. In Harteau’s first public comments about the tactic, she contested the suggestion that Ringgenberg used a “chokehold,” saying investigators found he grabbed Clark around the upper chest.
“While this may not be a specific technique the MPD instructs, that does not mean it was unauthorized,” Harteau said. “The MPD teaches the ultimate purpose in using a takedown maneuver is to quickly bring a person to the ground. The ground is known as the most effective place to gain control of someone.”
Council Member Alondra Cano, who joined demonstrators at the Fourth Precinct last November, said the city’s public safety committee should examine the city’s excessive force policies, as well as how police officers are trained to respond “to situations that don’t pose a threat.”
Cautioning that she has not seen the evidence reviewed by police investigators, she believes some type of discipline was warranted.
At the news conference, Mayor Betsy Hodges said she fully backs Harteau’s decision but extended her condolences to Clark’s family and friends.
“I know that some will be angry at this decision and find it difficult to accept, and I get that,” she said. “I also know that some will find relief, and I get that, too.”
The decision to not discipline the two police officers was immediately denounced by local civil rights leaders.
“I’m not surprised that the Minneapolis Police Department has failed to hold the two officers accountable who shot and killed Jamar Clark last November,” said Nekima Levy-Pounds, outgoing president of the Minneapolis NAACP.
“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,” she said.
Pastor Danny Givens, clergy liaison for Black Lives Matter Minneapolis, called it “another example of how this broken judicial system continues to fail black people, and it further perpetuates a culture of policing that says killing unarmed black men and women is OK.”
A rally and march, organized around the theme of “I am a man,” is planned for 1 p.m. Saturday at the Edina City Hall, 4801 W. 50th St. “The march is to address the issues of police violence and brutality on black men,” including the Clark killing, Givens said.
Edina had been chosen as the site before organizers were aware of the police decision in the Clark case. Last week, a black man was detained and cited by Edina police for walking in the street, setting off widespread criticism. Charges were later dropped.
Harteau said she would be talking to community leaders after the news conference about her decision and the ways “we can all move forward together in the coming weeks, months and years.” Harteau and Hodges held a telephone listening session Friday night with the community to discuss the announcement.
The chief said she didn’t want to talk publicly about the case until she met with Clark’s family. As a mother, she said, she can’t imagine the pain a parent would feel if they ever had to bury a child.
“But I have concluded the use of deadly force in the line of duty was necessary to protect an officer from apparent death or great bodily harm,” she said.
Staff writers Randy Furst and Eric Roper contributed to this report.