Since Jamar Clark's death at the hands of Minneapolis police officers last fall, activists blocked an interstate and international airport, built a three-week encampment outside a police precinct and continue to push for answers.
On Tuesday the ACLU and the NAACP sued Minnesota's top law enforcement agencies for the release of video footage connected to the 24-year-old's death on Nov. 15. They claim the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is violating state laws requiring public access to the footage.
"Too many people, especially those of color, are losing their lives to people charged to protect [them]," said Chuck Samuelson, director of the Minnesota chapter of the ACLU. "The public has been waiting months to find out what happened in Jamar's case. It's time."
Clark, a black man, was fatally shot in the head as he and two white officers, Dustin Schwarze and Mark Ringgenberg, struggled on the street in the 1600 block of Plymouth Avenue N. Police were called to the location on a report that Clark assaulted his girlfriend and blocked paramedics from trying to treat her.
In calling for the images to be released "as soon as possible" under state data practices laws, the suit argues that "the benefit to the public from release of the videos greatly outweighs any potential harm to the public, to the BCA and to the individuals captured in the videos." The lawsuit, filed in Ramsey County, named the BCA, its superintendent and the state Department of Public Safety as defendants.
DPS spokesman Bruce Gordon said in a statement that the BCA remains "fully committed to a fair, impartial and thorough investigation" into the circumstances of Clark's death.
"Releasing any evidence, including video, before the completed investigation and prosecutorial review is detrimental to the case," Gordon said, adding that video will be released once the case is closed.
The ACLU and NAACP, who are represented by the Maslon law firm, hope a judge will review their claim this month. Both groups were denied the videos by the BCA, which cited its active criminal investigation. The BCA previously said that none of the videos show the entire incident involving Clark's death, and that their release at this point could contaminate witness statements.
The Star Tribune has made similar formal requests for the incident report data and video from the night of the shooting. Those requests are still pending with the city of Minneapolis and the BCA.
A lawsuit in New Hampshire, which relied on a data practices act similar to Minnesota's, resulted in a judge's order to release videos, said Teresa Nelson, ACLU legal director. The withheld videos in Clark's case may shed significant light on the vastly different accounts about what happened, she said.
Activists claim 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 officers' guns before he was shot.
The videos obtained by the BCA came from an ambulance, a public housing building, the cellphones of bystanders and a police mobile video station. There is no video from any police car or officer body cameras.
Early in the BCA investigation, Gov. Mark Dayton viewed one the videos and called it inconclusive. The lawsuit counters that he lacks the authority to make such a judgment, and "has no … authority to interfere with or become involved in a BCA investigation." It adds that his right to view the videos "is no greater than the public's right to view the videos."
At a news conference Tuesday afternoon, Dayton defended his choice to review one of the videos, and said it was his responsibility as the state's chief executive who oversees the BCA.
"That's a separate matter than being a civilian," he said. "If they're going to go to court that's their choice; it's in the hand[s] of the court."
The U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division and the U.S. attorney told Dayton's office that release of the tapes would compromise their investigation.
Asked if telling the public what he saw on the tape compromised the investigation, Dayton said, "I already said it, so if it's compromised it's compromised. I'm not going to add to that. But I don't think so. I wouldn't have said it if I thought so."
Nekima Levy-Pounds, president of the Minneapolis NAACP, said the BCA has a poor record of holding officers accountable in shooting incidents. The longer the videos remain private, the greater the divide grows between the community and police, she said.
"Every officer shooting in Minneapolis that resulted in a death [in the past year] involved an African-American victim," Levy-Pounds said. "There is a police culture that allows killing people and the demonization of Jamar Clark. I don't want to see any more tragedies like this."
Staff writers Patrick Condon and Paul Walsh contributed to this report. David Chanen • 612-673-4465