Feds will investigate fatal police shooting of Jamar Clark

Tensions flared between protesters and police outside the MPD's 4th Precinct on Wednesday. Credit: Photo by Michael Latour // Murphy News Services

The FBI has agreed to conduct a criminal civil rights investigation into the fatal police shooting of Jamar Clark, 24, in North Minneapolis, at the request of city officials.

Clark, who was unarmed, was shot during an altercation with police around 12:45 a.m. on Sunday. He died Monday night and the cause of death was a gunshot wound to the head, according to the Hennepin County Medical Examiner. The state’s Bureau of Criminal of Apprehension has also launched an investigation.

The BCA has identified the Minneapolis police officers involved in the shooting as Mark Ringgenberg and Dustin Schwarze. They have been placed on paid administrative leave.

Both men have been police officers for seven years and have worked for the MPD for 13 months, according to the BCA. Ringgenberg previously worked for the Maple Grove and San Diego police departments and Schwarze previously worked for the Richfield and Brooklyn Park police departments, according to MPD records.

Whether Clark was handcuffed when he was shot is a point of disagreement between Minneapolis Police and witnesses at the scene.

In a joint statement, U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger, Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Vanita Gupta and Special Agent in Charge of the Minneapolis Division of the FBI Richard T. Thornton said federal investigators will “independently review all evidence to determine if Mr. Clark’s death involved any prosecutable violations of federal criminal civil rights statutes.”

“We ask for cooperation from any witnesses who believe they have information about the shooting and we urge calm throughout our community while investigators seek to determine the facts,” they said. “As the investigation is ongoing the Department will have no further comment.”

Mayor Betsy Hodges, Congressman Keith Ellison and NAACP Minneapolis President Nekima Levy-Pounds, along with many others, have called on federal authorities to investigate Clark’s shooting death.

In statement Tuesday night, Hodges said she believes the BCA and federal investigation “is the best way to build confidence in the process for everyone involved and concerned.”

“I am working within my scope of authority to make sure that we have a fair and just process for everyone, and to both listen to and work with the community,” she said. “In the big picture, I remain steadfastly committed to our ongoing work, through the groundbreaking National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice, to enhance procedural justice, reduce implicit bias, and encourage racial reconciliation. For years, I’ve been working to make sure we have the best possible relationship between our officers and the community and that commitment remains.”

Responding to protesters’ demands, Hodges said she can’t release videos of the incident because the data is “in the hands of the BCA and Justice Department.”

As for firing officers, she said it would be a violation of their collective-bargaining agreement and right to due process.

“I hear people’s frustration,” she said. “This process is going to require patience on all of our parts, including my own. Thank you for your commitment to a fair and independent process moving forward.”

Police say Clark was disrupting paramedics who were trying to help a domestic assault victim around 12:45 a.m. Sunday on the 1600 block of Plymouth Avenue North. According to the MPD press release: “Officers arrived and attempted to calm the suspect. A physical altercation took place with the suspect who was not in handcuffs. At some point during the struggle, an officer discharged his weapon striking the suspect.”

Meanwhile, Black Lives Matter activists have highlighted witness accounts saying Clark was shot while handcuffed.

BCA Superintendent Drew Evans video footage gathered from the scene won’t be released at this time because it “would impact the integrity of the investigation.”

“Several videos have been obtained related to this incident, none of which capture the event in its entirety,” he said during a press conference Tuesday afternoon.

Investigators have reviewed video from an ambulance that was on the scene, a mobile police video station in the area, cellphones and a public housing building camera. There was no video from a squad car dash cam or police body camera, Evans said.

Blacks Lives Matter activists have been demonstrating at the MPD’s 4th Precinct and also organized a partial shutdown of westbound I-94 north of Plymouth Avenue on Monday night. Police officers started clearing protesters from the front of the precinct Wednesday afternoon, prompting a chaotic scene and anger from activists. Demonstrators later linked arms in front of the precinct, chanting “Black Lives Matter” and “unarmed, don’t shoot” and had tense confrontations with police well into the night.

Harteau said police decided to remove people who were blocking entrance to the 4th Precinct and covering a security camera in the vestibule.

“We also had received multiple complaints from residents who were unable to gain entry to speak with officers and investigators because people were blocking the entrance. We continue to be sensitive of the protection and rights of all citizens. I thank those in the vestibule for their cooperation in peacefully leaving the space,” she said Wednesday afternoon. “I’ve been told by various sources that some of those who are demonstrating have plans to escalate their behavior. We will not tolerate property damage or any acts of violence against anyone. Public safety must continue to be our number one priority.”

Hodges issued the following statement in the wake of confrontations between police and demonstrators: “I understand that emotions are running high in the community and across the city. I share many of the emotions that people are feeling in Minneapolis today. I firmly believe in everyone’s right to protest and understand that people want to have places where they can gather and do that peacefully. We also want to ensure everyone’s safety. Chief Harteau and I are asking officers to exercise maximum restraint, and are asking protesters to act peacefully. I thank the many officers and protesters who are doing just that.”

State troopers arrested dozens of people involved in the I-94 demonstration on Monday.

Levy-Pounds was among those arrested Monday night. In a Facebook post, she wrote: “Blessed to have been in the company of such brave souls willing to be arrested last night, standing up for what they believe in. Thanks for all of your love, support, & encouragement. These arrests were not planned in advance of the demonstration. We each made a split second decision to risk being arrested or to exit the freeway. We did it for Jamar and all of those whose lives have been senselessly lost to police violence.”

During a press conference Monday, Harteau said the call for a federal inquiry is “not a predetermination about any ones actions.”

“I appreciate and welcome all avenues and resources that help us find out the truth … so we can all be clear on exactly what happened. Everyone involved needs and deserves the truth and the facts,” she said. “It is the key theme I’ve been hearing; we have been meeting with community and faith leaders throughout the weekend and today. These are people who live in Minneapolis; they are invested in their communities. I want you to know members of the Minneapolis Police Department are also extremely invested. I am incredibly proud of the men and women of this department, specifically during the past 24 hours. They have exercised extreme patience and professionalism under some very challenging and unwarranted treatment.”

Black Lives Matter activist Michael McDowell said too many officials have remained silent about the “violence perpetuated on black bodies in the state.”

“Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges can no longer sell us this empty rhetoric of a thriving Minneapolis,” he said in a statement released by Black Lives Matter. “Our city is not too far from burning like Baltimore because as the violence, disparities, and erasure people of color grows, so will the people’s rage and desire for justice.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota has also joined Black Lives Matter, the Minneapolis NAACP and city leaders in calling for transparency in the investigation into the shooting.

Charles Samuelson, executive director of the ACLU-MN, said 998 people have been killed by the police this year across the country, including 11 in Minnesota.

“As has been proven time and time again, blacks are far more likely to be shot by law enforcement. The time has come to address this issue as this is not a black issue, it is an American issue,” he said. “The first step in interrupting this cycle must be urgent reforms in how police and communities interact. We must acknowledge the tragedy of Jamar Clark’s death, and the death of others. Over time, the daily injustices, the repeated instances of police brutality, the dehumanizing and unconstitutional treatment of poor and minority people has degraded the American community to a level that is unconscionable.”

State Rep. Raymond Dehn (DFL-59B), who represents downtown and North Minneapolis neighborhoods, said he welcomes the independent investigation and hope it yields answers quickly.

“My prayers go out to everyone involved. Our community has seen far too many young people involved in tragedies like this,” he said. “We must all come together to ensure this doesn’t happen again.”

Blacks Lives Matter is helping Clark’s family raise money for his funeral expenses.