Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman announced Wednesday that he would not pursue charges against two Minneapolis police officers in the shooting death of a 24-year-old African-American man last year.
In a mid-morning news conference, Freeman outlined the narrative of the early moments of Nov. 15, 2015, that investigators had pieced together in their report. He would not charge police officers Dustin Schwarze and Mark Ringgenberg, Freeman said, because he found their use of force in Jamar Clark's death to be justified.
Activists and protesters, who had held demonstrations and marches near the site of Clark's death and across Minneapolis for months, responded swiftly, renouncing the decision and underscoring a deep distrust in the city, its leaders and its institutions — especially law enforcement.
In the absence of charges — and with a federal investigation still ongoing — many of the players in the drama that has unfolded since those early hours of Nov. 15 have different ideas about what happens now.
Freeman: Police "need to use the lowest level of force possible."
There may be one thing protesters and Freeman agree on: the need to reduce use of deadly force by police officers.
As he acknowledged that Clark had been shot 61 seconds after the officers arrived, Freeman said police must do more to deescalate potentially violent confrontations.
"Police must use discussion, negotiations and peaceful interventions first," he said. "They must be willing to tactically withdraw and slow down volatile situations. And if force is necessary, they need to use the lowest level of force possible."
Later, as he talked to reporters, Freeman expanded on the idea. The very culture of police departments needs to change, he said.
"The first place we need to do things is in training and procedures and changing cultures in police departments," he said.
"I think that's going to reach our goal of fewer people dying and fewer officers being faced with the situation that their action, even if justified by the law, took the life of another. I'm much more interested in spending time and energy on that than trying to change the law."
Freeman said the Jamar Clark case has led to an important conversation about how policing is done in Minneapolis — and how and when officers should use force. "And I think that's very good," he said.
Activists: "We are not going to reelect you."
Activists upset with the decision not to prosecute officers say they're going to make it an election issue.
"We need for our government leaders, who have blood on their hands, who've been a part of rubber-stamping this system, to move out of the way, so that young leaders with a conscience can step forward and lead our city into the next millennium," NAACP Minneapolis president Nekima Levy-Pounds said after Wednesday's announcement.
Raeisha Williams, communications chair for the Minneapolis NAACP, said that she plans to run for the Minneapolis City Council seat now held by Blong Yang. The seat, which represents the north Minneapolis' Ward 5 and includes the neighborhood where Clark was shot, is up for election in 2017.
"Today is the day as a community, as Minneapolis, that we all come together," she said. "No longer will it be a north Minneapolis thing. No longer will it be a black thing. We all have to come together and we all have to reroute this whole entire guilty system."
Williams called for pressure on the city's other 12 council members, as well.
"Call your city council members today, [and say] that as a taxpaying citizen, as a voting citizen, 'I am not okay with that decision, and if you don't put forth some real force and change, we are not going to re-elect you.'"
Protesters vowed to back a challenger to first-term Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges in 2017, and said they'd support a new candidate for Hennepin County Attorney when incumbent Mike Freeman's term expires in 2018.
"I think I'm best as an outside agitator. But I will look for other candidates to emerge and be willing to challenge Mike Freeman," Levy-Pounds said. "And if no candidates emerge, who knows, maybe I will run."
Governor: "These events should require all Minnesotans to take a hard look at our criminal justice system."
Gov. Mark Dayton said in a statement Wednesday he wants the Jamar Clark case to be a catalyst for change.
Dayton said he would defer judgment on Freeman's decision, saying he is waiting for federal authorities to finish a separate civil rights investigation.
But Dayton said the controversy and anger surrounding it need to be addressed. Minnesotans, he said, need to "take a hard look" at the criminal justice system.
"We must also confront the serious racial disparities, which wrongfully deny full and equal opportunities to Minnesotans of color," he said.
Dayton praised Freeman for what the governor called his openess and accountability. He also urged lawmakers to pass a package of reforms he'd proposed to alleviate racial disparities in the state.
"We must continue to work together to achieve fuller measures of opportunity, justice, and safety for all Minnesotans," he said.
Clark's family attorney: "We need to have a special unit of investigators."
Albert Goins, an attorney for Jamar Clark's siblings, said Wednesday's announcement of no charges was an indication that similar cases should be handled by independent prosecutors. County attorneys, Goins said, rely too heavily on police departments in their daily workings to be able to fairly determine charging decisions against them.
"What I think we really need now in those kinds of cases ... is we need to have a special unit of the Minnesota attorney general's office that's going to be independent from any police officers," he said. "We need to have a special unit of investigators — not the BCA, who works, often, hand-in-glove with county prosecutors — to do these investigations and to make these charging decisions."
Goins said he's not sure yet if Clark's family will file a civil suit against the officers, the city or the department.
"We don't know until we read all the evidence. We don't know until all the federal investigation is concluded," he said.
Federal investigators "continue to investigate whether the death of Jamar Clark violated any federal criminal civil rights laws."
Despite Freeman's decision not to charge officers Wednesday, the story surrounding Jamar Clark's death isn't settled yet. Federal authorities were asked to join the investigation into the shooting when Clark was still in the hospital, mortally wounded.
The Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Minnesota, and the FBI's Minneapolis Division are still investigating possible civil rights violations, according to a statement Wednesday from the Justice Department.
"As is our practice in conducting investigations into allegations of constitutional violations committed under color of law, experienced federal prosecutors and FBI agents are conducting a review of all available evidence in this case in an expeditious and thorough manner," the statement continued. "While the investigation is ongoing the Department will have no further comment."
Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges said that, once the federal investigation is done, the city's police department will have a better idea as to how it ought to appropriately follow up with the officers involved.
"Once that investigation concludes, MPD will thoroughly review all available evidence from the independent investigations and will be able to make a decision regarding discipline," Hodges said.
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