Federal authorities announced Wednesday that Jamar Clark’s civil rights were not violated when two white Minneapolis police officers fatally shot the 24-year-old black man during a confrontation last fall outside a North Side apartment building.
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. He said Clark’s family has been informed of the ruling.
“I want you to understand that this is one of the highest legal standards under criminal law,” Luger told reporters at FBI offices in Brooklyn Center. “It is not enough to show the officers made a mistake, that they acted negligently, by accident or even that they exercised bad judgment to prove a crime. We would have had to show that they specifically intended to commit a crime.”
Luger said there were two primary areas that federal investigators focused on: the question of whether Clark was handcuffed at the time he was shot and whether the shooting was an unreasonable act carried out “execution-style.”
In a statement issued in concert with his appearing at a news conference, Luger said that “accounts varied greatly in the details of when he was handcuffed, what position he was in when he was handcuffed and even whether one or both hands were handcuffed.”
The statements from witnesses on this point were in conflict and undermined “the degree to which they could be used to either disprove the officers’ accounts or to … establish that Clark was handcuffed.”
Luger added that DNA evidence from the handcuffs does “not support the conclusion that Clark” had them on. He also pointed the lack of bruising on Clark’s wrists, which would have suggested that he was handcuffed.
“Here, in order to allege that Mr. Clark was handcuffed, we would have had to pick and choose between very different versions,” Luger told reporters, such as whether Clark was standing up or lying down, or whether handcuffs in front or in back.
“However, as we said earlier, we knew that all evidence would be available to a jury. … if we chose one version over the others, all the remaining versions would come into evidence, making it very difficult for a jury to believe beyond a reasonable doubt what the prosecutor presented.”
The federal investigation’s findings regarding whether Clark was handcuffed and whether he had his hand on an officer’s gun was cuffed largely echo the determination by state investigators.
In late March, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman announced that no state charges would be brought against officers Mark Ringgenberg and Dustin Schwarze. Freeman took the nearly unprecedented move of eliminating the long-standing use of a grand jury in weighing charges against officers in shootings. The Minneapolis Police Department turned that investigation over to the state’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.
Clark’s family members were in tears Wednesday as they left the FBI building and did not talk to the news media as they walked to their vehicles. However, Nekima Levy-Pounds, head of the Minneapolis NAACP and a leading voice against the officers’ actions in shooting Clark was clear in her disgust with the latest decision.
“We are tired of what is happening” and being “treated like second-class citizens,” Levy-Pounds said to reporters outside the headquarters. “They don’t want to give us justice.”
Levy-Pounds decried the fact that activists were not allowed into the news conference, and she said on Facebook that the group would decline an invitation by the FBI and U.S. attorney for a private meeting Wednesday afternoon. She repeatedly called for a “paradigm shift” and asked for politically-savvy Minnesotans to run for office.
“We are in a land of disparities and a land in which we are treated like second-class citizens,” she said. “No matter how hard we try, no matter how hard we pound the pavement, no matter how much we lift our voices, they don’t want to give us justice.”
She called on Minnesota’s white population to not “cooperate with evil” in a community where police “kill with impunity.”
On his second point of whether the officers in effect executed Clark, Luger’s written statement noted that investigators would have had to disprove the officers’ contention that Clark was a danger to them by having his hand on one of the officer’s holstered gun.
“While the exact means by which Clark’s DNA was transferred to the gun cannot be established, its presence makes it impossible to disprove that] Officer Ringgenberg’s claim that Clark grabbed the gun,” Luger’s statement read.
Therefore, Luger continued, investigators could not prove “beyond a reasonable doubt that the shooting was … unreasonable [and] in violation” of Clark’s civil rights.
The FBI led the federal investigation, which was reviewed by the U.S. attorney’s office in Minnesota and prosecutors from the Justice Department’s civil rights division. Mayor Betsy Hodges had asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate Clark’s death, which triggered massive protests and gained nationwide attention.
Clark, of Minneapolis, was shot in the head after police said he resisted arrest Nov. 15 near the city’s North Side police precinct. The officers were responding to a call from paramedics treating a woman who had been at the same gathering as Clark, and the paramedics said he was attempting to get inside the ambulance to see her. The woman later recanted claims that Clark harmed her that night.
The shooting occurred 61 seconds after Ringgenberg and Schwarze encountered Clark; Ringgenberg used a takedown not sanctioned by the Police Department to get him to comply with their orders. Some witnesses said they saw that Clark was handcuffed when Schwarze shot him and that Freeman discounted testimony from many black witnesses that implicated the officers.
Freeman asserted that Clark was not handcuffed and that Clark’s DNA was all over the grip of Ringgenberg’s gun. Clark died the day after the shooting. The officers were each about 13 months into their jobs with the department at the time of the confrontation.
Protesters built an encampment outside the Fourth Precinct that lasted 18 days until it was dismantled by police.
The Police Department is continuing its internal affairs investigation into Ringgenberg and Schwarze.
(c)2016 the Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
Visit the Star Tribune (Minneapolis) at www.startribune.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
This content is published through a licensing agreement with Acquire Media using its NewsEdge technology.