ACLU, NAACP file lawsuit seeking release of Jamar Clark tapes

The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota and the NAACP Minneapolis filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the state’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) and the Minnesota Department of Public Safety in an effort to compel authorities to release video footage of the fatal police shooting of Jamar Clark.

The lawsuit asserts that state authorities are violating the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act by refusing to release video footage of the shooting death of Clark in North Minneapolis on Nov. 15.

According to the police report on the incident, Clark, a 24-year-old black man, was interfering with paramedics helping a domestic assault victim around 12:45 a.m. on the 1600 block of Plymouth Avenue North. Clark got in a physical altercation with officers on the scene and was later shot in the head. He wasn’t armed at the time. Police say he was handcuffed, but witnesses at the scene have disputed that.

The officers involved in the shooting, Mark Ringgenberg and Dustin Schwarze, who are both white, have been placed on paid administrative leave and are under investigation by the BCA and FBI.

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

In late November, he said several videos have been gathered related to the incident, but none captured the event in its entirety. He said investigators have reviewed video from an ambulance on the scene, a mobile police video station, cellphones and a public housing building camera. There were no videos from a squad car dash cam or police body cameras.

Black Lives Matter Minneapolis and the NAACP Minneapolis have long been pushing for the release of footage of the shooting.

“Our community is in a great deal of pain as a result of the shooting of Jamar Clark at the hands of the Minneapolis Police Department,” said Nekima Levy-Pounds, president of the NAACP Minneapolis. “It’s imperative that we demand accountability and transparency, which includes being able to gain access to the video footage of this tragic incident. We demand an end to police brutality, the police shooting of unarmed persons, and the criminalization of African Americans in the city of Minneapolis.”

Charles Samuelson, executive director of the ACLU-MN, said releasing the footage is necessary to hold police accountable.

“The police have tremendous authority, including the ability to use reasonable force. It’s entirely consistent with our democratic values for the public to demand government accountability and transparency when police use force, especially if it results in a life being taken,” he said.

Bruce Gordon, director of communications for the state Department of Public Safety, said videos will be released once the investigation is closed.

“The Department of Public Safety Bureau of Criminal Apprehension remains fully committed to a fair, impartial, and thorough investigation into the incident that led to the death of Jamar Clark. Releasing any evidence, including video, prior to the completed investigation and prosecutorial review is detrimental to the case,” he said. “While we cannot comment specifically about pending litigation, the BCA will follow the law and release the videos and all other public data once the case is closed as we would in any other investigation. This protects the rights of everyone involved.”

In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs argue that video footage of Clark’s shooting death falls under the same category as a police report, which would make it public information.

Media attorney Mark Anfinson, an expert on the Data Practices Act, called that a “creative theory.”

He said active investigative police data is generally classified as not public information and video footage likely falls under that category in most cases. A judge, however, does have discretion to rule that criminal investigative data should be made public if the benefits outweigh potential harms to the public, agency or person identified in the data.