MINNEAPOLIS – At a news conference Wednesday morning, Hennepin County attorney Mike Freeman announced Minneapolis Police Officers Mark Ringgenberg and Dustin Schwarze won’t be charged in the shooting death of 24-year-old Jamar Clark.
Clark was shot by Minneapolis police at 12:45 a.m. on Sunday, Nov. 15 outside of an apartment on the 1600 block of Plymouth Avenue N. and died Monday, Nov. 16 after he was removed from life support. Officers were responding to a request for assistance from paramedics who reported Clark was disrupting their ability to aid an assault victim.
Clark and 41-year-old RayAnn Hayes were at a birthday party at an apartment when they got into a physical altercation. Hayes injured her ankle and both received facial wounds. Around 12:20 a.m., Hayes called 911. When paramedics arrived, they found her intoxicated and unable to walk.
The paramedics carried her out of the building, where they saw Clark standing outside acting “kind of odd.”
As they walked past Clark, Hayes told the paramedics, “That’s the guy that did this to me.”
The paramedics called for police backup after Clark began yelling and knocking on the ambulance door. Officers arrived and because they “were so close to 1611 Plymouth and the call was for ambulance assistance, they did not activate lights and sirens which, in turn, means that their squad’s video cameras were not automatically activated,” Freeman said.
At 12:49 a.m., the officers approached Clark and repeatedly told him to remove his hands from his jacket. When he refused, Ringgenberg took his gun out along his leg with the barrel to ground. Ringgenberg told Clark to take his hands out of pockets, but when he refused, Ringgenberg placed the gun back in his holster, grabbed his wrist, Schwarze grabbed hand and took out his handcuffs.
Unable to place them on Clark, he dropped the cuffs. Because Clark resisted arrest while standing, Ringgenberg took him to the ground. Landing atop Clark, Ringgenberg felt his gun go from his right hip to the small of his back, and felt Clark’s hand on the gun. He told Schwarze repeatedly, “He’s got my gun.”
Schwarze took out his gun, putting it on the edge of Clark’s mouth, and said he’d shoot if Clark didn’t let go of the gun. Schwarze said Clark looked at him and said, “I’m ready to die.” Schwarze pulled the trigger, but the gun didn’t fire. Ringgenberg told him to shoot, and Schwarze fired again, about 61 seconds after the officers initially approached. Clark died of a gunshot wound to the head.
Clark’s DNA was found on Ringgenberg’s gun. There was no DNA found on the handcuffs. The autopsy revealed Clark had a .09 BAC and THC in his system, but no injuries from restraint.
“Officer Schwarze’s actions were reasonable because if Clark successfully pulled the gun from the holster, Ringgenberg and Schwarze would have been shot and other bystanders might have been hit as well,” Freeman said. “Clark simply could not have been handcuffed.”
Before being placed on standard administrative leave, Ringgenberg, 30, and Schwarze, 29, were both police officers for seven years, including 13 months with Minneapolis Police Department.
Freeman announced in mid-March the case would not be sent to a grand jury, saying the decision on whether or not to charge the officers is his job. The use of a grand jury has been highly criticized in cases around the United States, notably after two grand juries did not return indictments for officers involved in the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. and Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York.
“I will make the factual determination whether there is sufficient evidence to support a criminal charge against the police officers in the tragic death of Jamar Clark,” Freeman said. “I will make that determination with the excellent assistance of senior attorneys in our office and the fine work of law enforcement, most notably, the BCA and FBI. This is my job and I will do it as fairly as I can.”
Harteau, Hodges request federal investigation
At a news conference, Minneapolis Police Chief Janeé Harteau did not say if the officers violated any police department policies due to an ongoing investigation of the shooting.
In addition to the independent investigation by the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, the Mayor Betsy Hodges and Harteau requested a separate federal investigation. Once that investigation is complete, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights division and U.S. Attorney’s Office will determine whether the federal government will bring any charges. At that point, the Minneapolis Police Department “will continue its internal affairs process” but does not make any decision on discipline for the officers until the federal investigation is done and the department has reviewed evidence from both investigations.
Harteau did say officers are going through procedural justice training.
“We value our residents exercising their constitutional rights while also being safe and being treated with dignity and respect. Our highest priority will be keeping everyone – demonstrators, the public and police officers – safe as the city reacts to this decision,” Harteau said.
Officers’ attorneys speak
Bob Sicoli, Officer Ringgenberg’s attorney, said his client is eager to return to the streets and be a police officer again. Sicoli said Ringgenberg felt he was going to die that night, and has maintained the shooting was justified and didn’t coordinate stories with Schwarze.
“Can you imagine you are on the ground and someone has your gun? You are in danger. Your partner is in danger. The public is in danger. What are you going to do? They did what they had to,” Sicoli said.
In a statement, Schwarze’s attorney Fred Bruno said, in part, “The scientific evidence and objective witness statements now conclusively show that Mr. Clark was neither unarmed nor handcuffed. He had control of an officer’s gun. Officer Schwarze responded in accordance with his training, and as the law required him to act.”
The following statement can be attributed to Charles Samuelson, Executive Director of the ACLU-MN:
Every killing by a police officer is a tragedy and Jamar Clark is no different. Law enforcement kill individuals far too often in the United States with over 1,000 fatal police killings in 2015. At the ACLU, we believe human life should be valued above all else.
Statistics prove that Blacks and Native Americans are killed at much higher rates than their white counterparts. Without compromising public safety or the safety of officers, police departments need to push a model that focuses on de-escalation training, one that allows for more time to assess and better deal with the situation. Law enforcement departments around the world do not kill their citizens at the rate we do in the United States.
Law enforcement officers are rarely held accountable for their actions.
Unfortunately, there are far too many examples that one can look to that demonstrate instances where police officers should have been charged, Eric Garner and Tamir Rice to name a couple. Our system needs to change so that police who recklessly and unnecessarily kill are prosecuted and held accountable for the deaths that they cause.
We are glad that County Attorney Freeman has published all of the videos and the evidence used in this case. It is important that there is transparency in the process the county attorney used in their decision. However, Jamar Clark was shot within 61 seconds of officers arriving on the scene. It is unsettling that he was shot so quickly. Officers should have allowed for more time to address the situation fully.