The two Minneapolis police officers involved in the November shooting death of Jamar Clark will not face criminal charges, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said Wednesday, as he released volumes of evidence that he said prove the officers feared for their lives during the 61-second altercation.
Freeman said DNA and other evidence collected after the shooting on a north Minneapolis street show that Clark was not handcuffed during a scuffle with police officers Mark Ringgenberg and Dustin Schwarze, and that Clark had grabbed for Ringgenberg’s gun after the officer tackled him to the ground. In a news conference, the county attorney played video from the scene and invited the public to peruse police files, lab reports and crime scene photos on the county’s website.
“This case is not at all similar to others seen around the country,” Freeman said, referring to controversial police shootings in Chicago, Cleveland and other cities. “These officers did not have the opportunity to negotiate or tactically withdraw.”
While the city’s mayor, police chief and other officials praised Freeman for transparency, community members angered by Clark’s death rejected Freeman’s conclusions. Leaders of the Minneapolis NAACP, Black Lives Matter and other advocates peppered Freeman with questions during the news conference, arguing that the evidence points to the officers as the aggressors. They said the Nov. 15 shooting — which prompted an 18-day encampment at the city’s Fourth Police Precinct and attracted international attention — and the lack of charges for the officers involved demonstrate a fractured relationship between police and black residents.
Activists had pushed Freeman to consider the charges himself, rather than forwarding the case to a grand jury, in the interest of transparency. But they said the end result didn’t provide a clearer picture of what happened on the night Clark, 24, was shot, and warned that community members would not take the news quietly.
“Your entire narrative today was to push the propaganda of the Minneapolis Police Department,” said Raeisha Williams, communications director for the Minneapolis NAACP and a candidate for Minneapolis City Council. “You, Mr. Freeman, did not give a fair and accurate portrayal … and let me tell you: If the city burns, it’s on your hands.”
Williams later clarified that she doesn’t condone violence, but reiterated that Freeman had made the wrong decision and would be responsible for any fallout.
Following the news conference, some North Side businesses announced early closings. Cub Foods on West Broadway Avenue, one the area’s few grocery stores, shut its doors, with managers saying later that the decision had been made because many employees were upset over Freeman’s announcement.
People gathered near the site of Clark’s shooting, where a makeshift memorial clung to a tree. Others gathered at the nearby Fourth Precinct headquarters, where helmeted officers carrying riot shields briefly took up positions. Activists urged people to gather for evening demonstrations and marches downtown.
At an afternoon news conference, Mayor Betsy Hodges and Police Chief Janeé Harteau, flanked by eight of the city’s 13 City Council members, urged restraint on both protesters and police.
Harteau said her department won’t make decisions on disciplining the officers until separate federal investigations and an internal review are completed. Both are back at work, though not on street patrols. The chief said she couldn’t answer questions about the officers’ actions, department protocols or specifics of the investigation because of the ongoing investigations. She said she’d first seen most of the evidence when it was released by Freeman hours earlier.
The state’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension took over the investigation the morning after Clark was shot.
“I heard this in real time, just as you did,” Harteau said.
Hodges, who also said she had not had time to review the evidence, declined to say if she agreed with Freeman’s decision. She pointed to recent and ongoing efforts by the police department to diversify its ranks and improve police-community relations.
Changes to training
Since Clark’s shooting, two-thirds of the city’s officers have participated in training about recognizing their own biases and the city is participating in a national effort to increase trust between police and people of color.
The protests and conversations sparked by Clark’s death have also prompted Gov. Mark Dayton and DFL lawmakers to consider setting aside $100 million to address racial equity issues across the state.
In a statement, Dayton applauded Freeman’s effort to explain his decision and echoed earlier calls for more attention to racial disparities. He said he is “not the authority to evaluate the evidence” gathered by the state and will wait for the results of the federal investigation.
“These events should require all Minnesotans to take a hard look at our criminal justice system, where it works, and where it does not,” he said.
U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, who lives near the site where Clark was shot, also called for reforms, including expanded use of police body cameras, along with investment in north Minneapolis.
“These are critical issues we must address if we hope to build trust,” the DFLer said.
Lt. Bob Kroll, president of the police union, said the officers involved felt “terrible” about the shooting but anticipated they would be cleared of wrongdoing. He noted that officials had met demands for an independent investigation, federal oversight and to not use a grand jury process.
“I don’t know what more they want,” he said of the protesters. “It’s been as transparent as it can be.”
Other officials and advocates, including state Rep. Raymond Dehn, DFL-Minneapolis, City Council Member Alondra Cano and representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union, Neighborhoods Organizing for Change and the Minneapolis NAACP questioned at least some elements of Freeman’s decision and the justification of the officers’ actions.
Miski Noor, an organizer with Black Lives Matter Minneapolis, said she was “disgusted” by the decision.
“This is a failure of Mike Freeman, of Betsy Hodges, of Janeé Harteau and the police department. They failed to do the job,” she said. “They murdered a member of our community and refused to actually get justice for Jamar and his family. It is because this system has never valued black lives.”
Nekima Levy-Pounds, president of the Minneapolis NAACP, said people are frustrated by the pace of change in the justice system.
“We came here today expecting that there would be no charges filed in this case. We know that there has been a pattern of failure to hold officers who kill civilians accountable in the state of Minnesota, and today is no exception.”
Some advocates said they were particularly troubled by one aspect of Freeman’s narrative: The comments officers said Clark made in the seconds he wrestled with Ringgenberg on the ground. Freeman said that after Clark refused to take his hands out of his pockets, officers attempted — and failed — to handcuff him. Ringgenberg said he tackled Clark to the ground, landed on top of him, and then felt Clark’s hand on his gun.
As the two scuffled, Schwarze, Ringgenberg’s partner, said he put his gun to Clark’s mouth and warned him to let go of the weapon or he would shoot. He said Clark looked at him and said: “I’m ready to die.”
At the news conference, someone asked Freeman if any other witnesses had heard Clark’s comments.
“The only people who heard what Jamar said were the two officers and Mr. Clark,” Freeman said. “And he is not here.”
Staff writers Libor Jany, Karen Zamora, Jennifer Brooks, Jessie Van Berkel and Stephen Montemayor contributed to this report.