After two ostensibly independent law enforcement authorities—Hennepin County Attorney Mark Freeman and U.S. Attorney for the District of Minnesota Andrew Luger—declined to press any charges against or indict the Minneapolis police officers involved in the November 2015 killing of Jamar Clark, an unarmed black 25-year-old, the Minneapolis Police Department announced Friday that the two officers wouldn't be facing any internal discipline or criminal charges from it, either, and will return to work.
“After an extensive review of this entire incident, I have concluded that these officers did not dictate the outcome of this incident,” Minneapolis police chief Janée Harteau, the city's first female and first openly gay police chief, said in a prepared statement. “This was an outcome that no one wanted.”
Harteau also defended a maneuver by one of the officers involved, Mark Riggenberg, that protesters have dubbed a violent "choke hold," saying, "I have determined the takedown maneuver used by Officer Ringgenberg was not a ‘choke hold,’ as described by others,” Harteau said. “Internal Affairs investigators found the officer grabbed the suspect by his upper chest. While this may not be a specific technique that the MPD instructs, that does not mean it was unauthorized.”
In a statement, NAACP of Minneapolis president Nekima Levy-Pounds said, "The decision by MPD to not discipline the two officers who killed Jamar Clark constitutes ‘business as usual.’ The brutal way he was taken down alone makes it impossible to believe that not a single policy was violated by the officers. MPD’s decision continues to signal to our community that police officers are able to kill with impunity."
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Clark was shot by police responding to a call regarding domestic abuse, but whether any of the domestic abuse repeatedly alleged by Freeman while explaining why he declined to press charges ever actually happened has been strongly called into question. Rayann Hayes, the woman alleged to be Clark's girlfriend, told both investigators for the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension—the agency that investigated the case for Freeman's office—and CBS Minnesota that she was not Clark's girlfriend and that there was no abuse involved. She said he was simply helping her up off the ground after she tripped in heels outside a party trying to break up a separate (verbal) argument. The NAACP of Minneapolis has released a lengthy rebuttal to Freeman's decision, and accused him of having "shifting rules of evidence when it comes to people of color."
"Freeman’s narrative was peppered with gratuitous coded language designed or defaulted to dehumanize Clark — and by extension, African-American men, in general — and provides subliminal justification for his killing," wrote Minneapolis Urban League president Steven Belton in a Minneapolis Star-Tribune op-ed.
As Hayes was being put into an ambulance for her injury, Clark went up to the back doors. According to Hayes, the EMTs thought he was trying to break in, but she thought he was coming to help her. Regardless, he was shortly after grabbed from behind by Riggenberg, who claims that he ended up lying down face-to-face on top of Clark. He says Clark then reached for his gun, at which point his partner, Dustin Schwarze, shot Clark in the head. It is heavily in dispute between protesters and police whether Clark was in handcuffs at the time he was shot or not. Riggenberg, during a previous job with a San Diego-area police force, has been involved in a similar incident in which he used a choke hold-type maneuver.
After Clark's shooting, protesters set up an encampment outside of the police department's Fourth Precinct headquarters, near where Clark was shot. During the 18-day occupation and protests, police beat protesters with nightsticks, according to a federal lawsuit against the department filed in January. The Department of Justice has opened a separate investigation into the police's response to the protests. Disciplinary records released by the city in May show that the Fourth Precinct has by far the most "problem cops" of the city's precincts.
Earlier this year, the ACLU released a report based on Minneapolis Police Department data that found black Minneapolitans are nearly nine times more likely to be arrested for low-level crimes than white people, echoing previous findings by the State Council on Black Minnesotans that "on any given day in Minnesota, a black person is more than 20 times more likely to be stopped for a traffic offense than a white person."
Sam Stecklow is the Weekend Editor for Fusion.