Kenosha County DA Won’t Charge Police Officers In Jacob Blake Shooting

Jacob Blake Family, Supporters Have Called For Peaceful Protests

a black lives matter flag is held up by a protester in a face mask
A protester raises a “Black Lives Matter” flag Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021, in Kenosha, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

Kenosha County District Attorney Michael Graveley announced Tuesday he will not charge any of the Kenosha police officers involved in the August 2020 shooting of Jacob Blake.

Speaking at a press conference Tuesday afternoon, Graveley said he looked at what evidence would be admissible in a jury trial and what would be sufficient to get a conviction before making his decision. He said he didn’t think he could prove the officers weren’t acting in self-defense.

Kenosha Police Officer Rusten Sheskey, who is white, shot Blake, a Black man, in the back seven times on Aug. 23 while Sheskey and two other officers were trying to arrest him for an outstanding sexual assault warrant. Blake is now paralyzed from the waist down. In November, the state dropped the sexual assault charges against Blake.

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A man in a suit gestures as he speaks to reporters from a stage
Kenosha County District Attorney Michael Graveley speaks to reporters Tuesday in Kenosha, Wis. He announced that he will not charge any of the Kenosha police officers involved in the shooting of Jacob Blake. Angela Major/WPR

Graveley began the press conference expressing sympathy for Blake and his family, calling the shooting a “tragedy” and adding that he spoke to Blake by phone a few minutes before the press conference.

“I feel inadequate for this moment, I have never in my life had to contend with implicit bias because of my race,” Graveley said. “I have also not gone to a work shift knowing that I could face armed persons knowing they could end my life.”

But Gravely said what he does have is nearly three decades as a prosecutor. After announcing there would be no charges, Graveley spent the better part of the expected two-hour press conference explaining his reasoning, including playing 911 tapes and showing a video of the shooting.

Former Madison Police Chief Noble Wray, who was brought in by state to do an independent use-of-force review of the Blake shooting, also spoke. He said Blake had a knife at the time of the shooting and officers can be heard in recordings yelling “drop it.”

Graveley wouldn’t answer questions about Sheskey’s or other officers’ continued employment with the Kenosha Police Department.

As the DA’s briefing was still going on, members of Blake’s family and their attorneys held their own press conference in reaction to the announcement.

B’Ivory LaMarr, one of the Blake family’s attorneys, said the legal team is disappointed in the decision not to charge and believes there was sufficient evidence for probable cause.

“If officers can justify shooting someone in this circumstance, we’ve got a long way to go,” he said. “We don’t need to hear a two-hour explanation for what our eyes can see.”

LaMarr said the family and attorneys plan to bring civil action “in the near future.”

“We will exercise every remedy that we believe is available,” he said.

A man gestures as he speaks to reporters
Justin Blake, Jacob Blake’s uncle, speaks during a press conference Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021, after an announcement that police offers would not be charged for shooting and injuring his nephew in Kenosha, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

Justin Blake, Jacob Blake’s uncle, called the decision “a slap in the face by Wisconsin government and the DA,” and called on people to rise up in a nonviolent way.

“The reason we wore our Carhartts today is to let people know we got work to do,” he said. “I need you to make a lot of noise.”

piles of dirty snow line the streets where protesters march at night
A group of protesters march in the street amid piles of snow Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021, following an announcement that Kenosha police officers would not be charged in the shooting and injuring of Jacob Blake. Angela Major/WPR

Starting around 5:30 p.m. Tuesday evening, a group of a few dozen had gathered in downtown Kenosha, marching and chanting in support of Blake. Police warned the crowd they would be declared an unlawful assembly if they blocked traffic, but marchers generally kept moving and stayed to one side of the street.

After about an hour of marching, the group gathered for speeches and a moment of silence.

military style vehicles drive by as a protester raises a fist
A protester raises a fist as members of the Wisconsin National Guard pass by in vehicles Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021, in Kenosha, Wis. The protest was sparked when Kenosha County District Attorney Michael Graveley announced he will not charge any of the Kenosha police officers involved in the August 2020 shooting of Jacob Blake. Angela Major/WPR

Following the shooting last summer, Kenosha erupted in days of protest, sometimes leading to violence. The protests to the shooting prompted right-wing backlash, with armed groups taking to city streets.

On Aug. 25, then-17-year-old Illinois resident Kyle Rittenhouse is accused of shooting three protesters, killing two of them. Rittenhouse has since been charged in Kenosha County with multiple counts, including homicide, endangerment and being a minor in possession of a firearm.

On Monday, Gov. Tony Evers mobilized approximately 500 Wisconsin National Guard troops to active duty in advance of the Sheskey charging decision. Graveley announced his decision at a location provided to reporters within an hour before the press conference.

Tuesday afternoon, Evers issued a statement saying policymakers had failed to make meaningful reforms to the criminal justice system to address racism and injustice.

“Presented the opportunity to rise to this moment and this movement and take action to provide meaningful, commonsense reform to enhance accountability and promote transparency in policing in our state, elected officials took no action,” Evers said. “Today’s decision is further evidence that our work is not done — we must work each day in earnest toward a more just, more fair, and more equitable state and country, and to combat the racism experienced by Black Wisconsinites.”

a headlight shines on protesters, one has their hands raised
Protesters stand in front of a bearcat as police attempt to disperse the crowd Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020, in Kenosha. Angela Major/WPR

Graveley’s decision took five months. In many district attorney’s offices across the country, a decision to charge an officer would have been made within weeks. The difference is due, in part, to another police shooting in Kenosha 16 years ago that led to Wisconsin being one of the first states to require an independent investigation in such cases. Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul led the investigation before turning his findings over to Graveley to make a charging decision.

According to state investigators, Kenosha police were called to an apartment by a woman on Aug. 23, saying her boyfriend was violating a restraining order.

Officers tried to arrest 29-year-old Blake and used a Taser on him twice. Blake was trying to get into his vehicle when Sheskey, holding onto Blake’s shirt, shot him in the back. Sheskey is a seven-year veteran of the Kenosha Police Department.

Internal reports show Sheskey was reprimanded five times over the course of his career with the Kenosha Police Department, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Three times in three years for crashing his squad car, and twice for his actions at traffic stops, although the reviews found he did not violate department policy.

NBA, Marquette Players React To Decision

NBA star LeBron James called a prosecutor’s decision not to file charges against a white police officer who shot a Black man in Wisconsin this summer was a “blow to the heart and to the gut.”

The Marquette University men’s basketball team wore black uniforms to protest the decision and the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks said they plan to continue pushing for policy changes in law enforcement.

Editor’s note: Madeline Fox contributed reporting.