Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman’s decision not to charge two police officers who shot and killed an unarmed black man in north Minneapolis last November was based on a wealth of video footage, witness and police statements and other forensic evidence, which Freeman says points to justifiable officer force after Jamar Clark attempted to take one of the officers’ guns.

Freeman’s office published relevant evidence to the county attorney’s website — which the prosecutor hailed as an “unprecedented” level of transparency — including dozens of unedited videos, Clark’s autopsy report and full interview transcripts. The witness statements are often contradictory and no single document or video tells the whole story, but the evidence dump provides many previously missing pieces that collectively help illuminate what happened that night.

After Freeman announced the no-charge decision and provided evidence highlights and some key video clips, activists interrupted the news conference and accused him of mischaracterizing the events, citing distrust with investigators.

“The system itself is broken,” said Nekima Levy-Pounds, Minneapolis chapter president of the NAACP. “And as we say on the streets, the whole damn system is guilty as hell.”

Clark’s DNA found on gun

Freeman said the multiple agencies that investigated the shooting — the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA), FBI and Department of Justice — interviewed 110 witnesses, and the BCA lab reviewed 141 items from 21 lab reports, including DNA and blood spatter reports.

The BCA forensic analysis shows that DNA likely belonging to Clark was found on officer Mark Ringgenberg’s SIG Sauer handgun grips. While the police say Clark grabbed the gun, the presence of DNA does not exclude the possibility that it got there by some other means. Clark’s DNA was not found on other parts of the gun, including the trigger, slide and magazine bottom.

Freeman also provided evidence he said suggests Clark was not handcuffed at the time of the shooting — a claim that circulated afterward — such as photos of Clark’s wrists taken at the hospital after the incident that don’t appear to show cuff markings. In the autopsy report, the medical examiner said Clark’s wrists had “no occult contusions, or other injuries suggestive of restraint.” Investigators also couldn’t find any of Clark’s DNA on the inside of the cuffs, which prosecutors say is “strong evidence” he was not restrained.

Clashing statements

Witnesses offered conflicting versions of what happened.

Ten police officers and other emergency responders and two civilians said Clark was not handcuffed. Among them was EMS Deputy Chief Michael Trullinger, who was on the scene in an ambulance at the time of the shooting. Trullinger told investigators he hit the floor when he heard shots fired. After he was sure the shooting was done, he looked out the window and saw Clark lying on the ground bleeding. He ran over to Clark and began administering medical help, and saw a pair of handcuffs in the grass.

Another witness, Jerome Copeland, who was standing outside the nearby Elks Lodge, saw one of the officers put Clark into a choke hold, according to documents. He heard the officers tell Clark to stop resisting, though Clark didn’t appear to be fighting them, he said. Copeland was also certain Clark was not cuffed during the struggle.

However, seven witnesses said Clark was in cuffs, though some disagreed whether his hands were restrained in front or back of his body, or if one or both hands were handcuffed. Dennis Cherry, also at the Elks Lodge, remembered seeing the officers pinning Clark to the ground, “arms pinned to his sides, hands were cuffed.” Six others said they weren’t sure if he was handcuffed or not.

In separate statements, both officers say they were trying to handcuff Clark when the struggle ensued. Clark allegedly had what officer Dustin Schwarze called a “thousand-yard stare.” After he refused to take his hands out of his pockets, Ringgenberg removed his gun from the holster but kept it pointed toward the ground. He later returned it to his holster. Ringgenberg said that when he took Clark to the ground by reaching around his “chest” he ended up rolling on top of him, which apparently caused his holster and pistol to shift to the small of his back. When he reached down to move it, he said he found Clark’s hand on the gun, and he tried to pin it in place. Clark, he said, tried to pull out the weapon. In a panic, he said he shouted to Schwarze that Clark had his gun. Both officers say Clark told them he was “ready to die.” Ringgenberg urged Schwarze to shoot Clark. Schwarze pulled the trigger, but it failed to fire. He adjusted position and fired once, killing Clark.

Video incomplete

The County Attorney’s office published dozens of raw videos to its website — which have been sought by activists for months. They include videos from 54 squad cars on the scene that evening, the back of the ambulance that transported assault victim RayAnn Hayes — who despite reports that she was his girlfriend, told investigators she barely knew Clark — and multiple civilian witnesses. Freeman says there is no dash-cam footage from Ringgenberg and Schwarze’s squad because they didn’t turn on the vehicle’s siren, which activates the camera. He said he would also release video from inside the squad car the officers rode in immediately after the shooting. No single video offers a comprehensive account of the entire incident.

“I know that many people think videos are the panacea and will resolve all disputes in a criminal situation,” noted Freeman. “Sometimes there are videos that do show that, sometimes there is a body camera and squad car video. That doesn’t happen all the time and it didn’t happen here.”

One ambulance video shows Trullinger walking into the frame and talking to Clark, who is standing just outside of the camera’s view. Trullinger displays no overt emotional response during his interaction with Clark, and later walks out of frame.

In a second video, Trullinger returns into the frame with Ringgenberg and Schwarze. The men approach Clark, who is initially out of the frame. Clark returns into view with Ringgenberg behind him. The officer swings his arm around Clark’s neck, pulling him to the ground. This is where Freeman said the two struggled and Clark reached for Ringgenberg’s gun, prompting Schwarze to shoot Clark. The video shows Ringgenberg’s legs briefly kicking before he stands up and adjusts his utility belt.

In one grainy video, recorded by a bystander immediately afterward, witnesses yell at police who appear to stand over Clark’s body on the ground.

“He didn’t have to do that!” one person yells.

“Thank God we came!” shouts another. 

Staff writers Dan Browning and Chao Xiong contributed to this report.