No federal civil rights charges in Jamar Clark case

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The U.S. Justice Department announced Wednesday that there will be no federal criminal civil rights charges against the Minneapolis police officers involved in the fatal shooting of Jamar Clark.

U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger said the government could not make the case “beyond a reasonable doubt” that officers Mark Ringgenberg and Dustin Schwarze were “objectively unreasonable” based on the circumstances when they used deadly force against Clark, 24, in North Minneapolis on Nov. 15.

To proceed with federal criminal civil rights charges against the officers, prosecutors would have to show “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the officers “acted willfully” in depriving Clark’s Fourth Amendment right to be free from an unreasonable seizure, which includes unreasonable physical force.

Luger said federal authorities had two clear allegations to investigate — one, that Clark was handcuffed when he was shot and second, he was shot execution style.

He said there was a lot of discrepancy among witnesses about whether Clark was handcuffed and how he was handcuffed among those who reported seeing cuffs on him. Investigators then turned to forensic evidence. Luger said two pieces were important: handcuffs had insufficient DNA for an identification and no bruising was found on Clark.

He also said there was insufficient evidence to disprove officers’ statements that they feared for their lives. Ringgenberg said Clark was grabbing for his gun when he was laying on top of him, trying to restrain him. Schwarze said he ordered Clark to remove his hand from the gun but he refused. Then he shot Clark in the head.

Luger and Richard Thornton, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Minneapolis Division, met with Clark’s family to discuss their conclusions in the case Wednesday morning and planned to meet with community and religious leaders later in the day in hopes of facilitating a conversation on the need for police reforms on the use of force in Minnesota.

“A young man has died and it’s a tragedy,” Luger said.

The conclusion of the federal investigation follows Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman’s decision in late March to not file charges against the police officers involved in the shooting.

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.

Mayor Betsy Hodges and Minneapolis Police Chief Janeé Harteau asked for the independent federal investigation.

“Chief Harteau and I asked for this independent federal investigation by the Department of Justice because we believed it would be the best way to build confidence in the process and in the outcome for everyone concerned,” Hodges said in a statement Wednesday afternoon. “The community wanted a federal review, and so on Nov. 16 we asked the Department of Justice to open a civil rights investigation. Now that the investigation has concluded, I want to thank the Department of Justice for its independent investigation. At this time, the City will move forward with its own internal investigation.”

She acknowledged the grief so many have felt in 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,” Hodges said.

Harteau said she has confidence in the conclusions of the investigations.

“I have full faith in this independent investigation. We have had two thorough investigations into this matter that arrived at the same conclusion. I am satisfied with the thoroughness of these investigations, am confident in their results, and I hope the public will accept their conclusions. I will continue to support the officers involved as the MPD moves forward with its work building trust and legitimacy with the communities we serve,” she said.

The Minneapolis Police Department will now continue its own internal investigation to determine if the officers committed any department policy violations. When the investigation is complete, city officials said the MPD will “release as much information as state statute allows.”

Here’s an excerpt of a post on Black Lives Matter Minneapolis’ Facebook page: “Our hearts go out to Jamar Clark’s family on this day. Jamar deserves justice. His family deserves justice. This country consistently recognizes only one right for Black people and it’s the right to die at the hands of state sanctioned violence, one way or another.”

Meanwhile, Lt. Bob Kroll, president of the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis, called Black Lives Matter a “terrorist organization” following Luger’s announcement that the officers wouldn’t face federal civil rights charges — a comment that has sparked outcry from many leaders and activists.

Harteau later tweeted: “Bob Kroll does not speak for the MPD. Many are frustrated and find his comments divisive.”

City Council Member Abdi Warsame (Ward 6) also criticized Kroll.

“As the only black Council Member in the Minneapolis City Council, I’m disappointed by MPD Union Leader’s statement today referring to Black Lives Matter as a Terrorist Organization,” he wrote on his Facebook page. “… I haven’t agreed with all the positions that Black Lives Matter have taken in the past, but they are raising important issues that we should all be grappling with in our cities and in our country.”