Minneapolis Police Chief Janeé Harteau has concluded officers Mark Ringgenberg and Dustin Schwarze did not violate department policy in the fatal shooting of Jamar Clark last November.
The officers, already cleared of criminal wrongdoing by separate state and federal investigations, will not face any discipline for the Nov. 15 incident on the North Side that left 24-year-old Clark dead and prompted weeks of protests. The internal use-of-force review began after those earlier investigations were completed.
“I have concluded the use of deadly force in the line of duty was necessary to protect an officer from apparent death or great bodily harm,” Harteau said Oct. 21 while announcing the results of the department’s internal affairs investigation into the case. “… In quoting the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the evidence gathered in the BCA’s (Bureau of Criminal Apprehension) investigation is insufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the shooting was objectively unreasonable.”
Harteau said she and Mayor Betsy Hodges met with members of Clarks’ family before the announcement. Albert Goins, an attorney representing some of Clark’s siblings, said the majority of his family didn’t attend the meeting “because they anticipated a decision similar to the decision not to prosecute.”
Goins said attorneys representing Clark’s biological mother, Irma Burns, cut the meeting “relatively short.”
“His mother said, essentially — after she heard a lot of the legal, procedural stuff — she expressed her anguish and frustration, and she said, ‘Well, I heard all this, but my son is dead. Where do I go to get justice?’”
Goins said members of Clark’s family plan to file a civil suit.
Nekima Levy-Pounds, the outgoing president of the Minneapolis NAACP, described the outcome of the internal affairs investigation as “business as usual” for MPD in a statement posted on the organization’s Facebook page.
“The brutal way (Clark) was taken down alone makes it impossible to believe that not a single policy was violated by the officers,” Levy-Pounds said. “MPD’s decision continues to signal to our community that police officers are able to kill with impunity.”
Clark died of a gunshot wound to the head after an early morning struggle with police outside of an apartment building on the 1600 block of Plymouth Avenue North, where Clark was attending a birthday party. According to police, Clark was involved in a fight that resulted in an ambulance being called to the apartment.
Paramedics called police because Clark was reportedly interfering with their efforts to treat the victim. Ringgenberg and Schwarze responded to the call from the Fourth Precinct, located just three blocks away, and confronted Clark.
In the police narrative, Ringgenberg used a takedown move on Clark when he refused to cooperate with orders to remove his hands from his pockets. During a struggle on the ground, Ringgenberg said afterward, Clark reached for his gun. Schwarze first warned Clark to let Ringgenberg, and then shot him.
Witnesses at the scene claimed Clark was handcuffed when he was shot, but investigations into the incident concluded that was not the case.
Harteau said the takedown move used by Ringgenberg was not a chokehold, as some had claimed. She said the evidence indicated he took Clark down by grabbing his upper chest, and, while the maneuver isn’t taught by MPD, it was not unauthorized.
“The MPD teaches the ultimate purpose in using a takedown maneuver is to quickly bring a person to the ground,” she said. “The ground is known as the most effective place to gain control of someone.”
Harteau said video and DNA evidence supported Ringgenberg’s claim that Clark was reaching for his weapon, and that the officers’ fear for loss of life justified the use of deadly force.
While expressing her condolences to Clark’s family, Hodges said she supported Harteau’s decision.
“I trust the thorough process that the department followed, and I trust Chief Harteau’s judgment,” Hodges wrote in a statement released after Harteau announced the decision. “I know her dedication to the safety and dignity of every person in this city and every officer in this department.”
Harteau’s announcement followed the U.S. Justice Department’s decision in June not to bring federal criminal civil rights charges against Ringgenberg and Schwarze. Both officers are white, while Clark was black.
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman made a similar decision in March to not file charges.
Clark’s shooting death sparked intense protests throughout the city, including an 18-day occupation of the Minneapolis Police Department’s 4th Precinct police station.
Hodges and Harteau hosted an open conference call with the public several hours after making the announcement.
— Nate Gotlieb contributed to this report