Feds: No civil rights charges in Jamar Clark police shooting

U.S. Attorney Luger, right, Richard Thornton, FBI
FBI special agent in charge Richard Thornton, left, and U.S. Attorney Andy Luger at a press conference at FBI headquarters in Brooklyn Center, Minn., announcing that there will be no federal charges in the police shooting of Jamar Clark on Wednesday.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Updated 6:25 p.m. | Posted 11:36 a.m.

Jamar Clark
This undated photo released by his sister Javille Burns shows Jamar Clark.
Javille Burns via AP file

Federal prosecutors will not pursue federal civil rights charges against two Minneapolis police officers in the Nov. 15 police shooting of Jamar Clark.

After "extensive investigation" the United States Justice Department concluded that the evidence wasn't sufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the officers "willfully violated Clark's civil rights," U.S. Attorney for Minnesota Andrew Luger said Wednesday, adding that the federal probe is now closed.

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Clark's death sparked more than two weeks of protests outside the 4th Precinct police station in north Minneapolis.

A key issue was whether Clark, 24, was handcuffed at the time of the shooting. Several witnesses said he was; police said he was not.

Those conflicting witness statements made it extremely difficult to bring a case against the officers, Luger said. Some community witnesses said they saw Clark standing in handcuffs while others said he was in handcuffs on the ground; some said the cuffs were in front and others said he was cuffed behind his back while others said Clark wasn't handcuffed at all, he added.

He also said an independent forensic review his office requested concurred with the Hennepin County Medical Examiner's review that the evidence did not support the conclusion Clark was handcuffed.

Liquid sprayed toward demonstrators.
A police officer sprays a liquid toward demonstrators at the Minneapolis Police Department 4th Precinct building, Nov. 18, 2015, in Minneapolis.
Jeff Wheeler | Star Tribune via AP 2015

Luger called Clark's death "undeniably tragic" and said there were no winners in what happened. Federal authorities intend to start a pilot program to explore the use of force by police in Minnesota, he added.

Activists who had pushed for the federal inquiry attacked Luger's decision not to prosecute the officers. They were also angered they were not allowed into the morning press conference; several said they would boycott the afternoon meeting scheduled with federal officials.

"Enough is enough. It is time to rise up and demand justice," Minneapolis NAACP President Nekima Levy-Pounds told reporters following Luger's announcement.

"Right is right, wrong is wrong," activist Mel Reeves added. "People got away with killing Jamar Clark wrongly."

Richard Howell, pastor at Shiloh Temple International Ministries in north Minneapolis, attended the meeting at the FBI offices and said he accepts the decision not to bring civil rights charges.

"At the meeting today, I believe that he pretty well exhausted every nook and cranny of the investigation," Howell said. "He went piece by piece to us and I just believe that they did what they were supposed to do."

Some of Clark's family members were also at the meeting, and they're struggling to understand why Minneapolis police won't face criminal charges for shooting their relative.

"[Clark] had no rights. They didn't have no reason to come up on him, or even put their hands on him. Or had the right to shoot him in the head," said Clark's nephew Michael Burns. "He had no gun in his hand. He had no type of weapon. I'm not understanding. I'm just lost.

The confrontation that led to Clark's death began when police were called by paramedics who said he was interfering with their efforts to treat an assault victim. Officers Mark Ringgenberg and Dustin Schwarze responded.

According to an investigation by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, Clark refused orders to take his hands out of his pockets.

The officers tried to handcuff him but failed. Ringgenberg wrestled Clark, 24, to the ground but wound up on his back atop Clark and felt Clark's hand on his weapon, according to the investigation.

Schwarze then shot Clark in an encounter that lasted barely more than a minute from the time officers first arrived.

In March, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman declined to file criminal charges against the officers. He cited forensic evidence in the BCA investigation that found no bruising of Clark's wrists that handcuffs would likely have caused and found Clark's DNA on Ringgenberg's gun.

Freeman also cited conflicting accounts by witnesses about whether Clark was cuffed.

Mayor Betsy Hodges and Minneapolis Chief Janee Harteau requested the civil rights investigation on Nov. 16, conducted by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Minnesota and the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division.

In a statement Wednesday afternoon, Hodges said the last several months have been "difficult" for the city. "I understand this decision has struck at the heart of a painful tension in the community. What we can do now is move forward together to build a city that is safe and equitable for everyone."

Minneapolis police union president Lt. Bob Kroll said the decision by federal authorities not to prosecute confirmed that the officers followed "procedure and training protocols while acting within the scope of the law responding to a dangerous situation."

Kroll said some city leaders and Black Lives Matter Minneapolis made a rush to judgment.

"I don't see Black Lives Matter as a voice for the black community in Minneapolis," he said.

"Real black leaders will tell you that this is a terrorist organization that puts out false narratives," he added. "It's happened in other cities, it's happened here. The hands up don't shoot in Ferguson never occurred. The handcuffs on Jamar Clark shot in the back of the head never occurred. These are false narratives that are perpetuated."

Kroll's comments later drew a rebuke from Harteau and Hodges.

"Bob Kroll does not speak for the MPD," Harteau tweeted. "Many are frustrated and find his comments divisive." Hodges called Kroll's view "irresponsible."

The mayor's statement noted that an internal affairs investigation on the police confrontation with Clark continues.

Harteau has said such a review will look at the tactics used by officers that night, including the technique used to take Clark to the ground.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.