Kenosha police officer's lawyer says he thought Jacob Blake was kidnapping child after hearing mother's plea

'He's got my kid. He's got my keys," the officer heard the woman say

Saturday, September 26, 2020
Kenosha police shooting caught on video; 1 injured
Video posted on social media Sunday show one officer grabbing the man's shirt from behind and then firing into the vehicle.

Police Officer Rusten Sheskey has told investigators that it wasn't just his life he was defending when he fired his weapon seven times at Jacob Blake last month in Kenosha, Wisconsin. He said he used deadly force during the chaotic encounter because he was afraid Blake, while attempting to flee the scene, was trying to kidnap a child in the backseat of the vehicle.

"He's got my kid. He's got my keys," Sheskey heard a woman say, according to attorney Brendan Matthews, who is representing the officer. If Sheskey had allowed Blake to drive away and something happened to the child "the question would have been 'why didn't you do something?'" Matthews said.

That explanation, provided in an exclusive interview with CNN, offers the most detailed rationale to date for Sheskey's highly scrutinized decision to shoot Blake, who is Black, as he leaned into an SUV with his children inside it on August 23. Cellphone video of the shooting went viral on the internet, sparking days of protests and rioting in the lakeside city of Kenosha. The shooting, which Blake's family has said resulted in paralysis from his waist down, was widely condemned as yet another unjustified shooting of a Black person by police.

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The attorney's comments to CNN come as authorities in Wisconsin announced this week that the results of an investigation by the state Department of Justice would soon be turned over to a retired police chief serving as an independent consultant for his review. The consultant is in turn expected to forward the case to local prosecutors along with an analysis intended to help determine whether criminal charges against Sheskey are warranted. The officer remains on paid administrative leave.

Matthews told CNN he typically does not talk about pending cases but said he felt compelled to provide some additional detail to counter what he described as an "incomplete, inaccurate" narrative that has emerged to date. Matthews directly disputed assertions by Blake's family and lawyers that he was unarmed and posed no threat to the officers.

At the time Sheskey opened fire, the lawyer said, Blake held a knife in his hand and twisted his body toward the officer. That action is not visible in the video widely circulating on the internet, in which the view of Blake's body is partially obscured by the driver's side door of the SUV.

Matthews said a second officer at the scene, whom he also represents, provided investigators with a similar account of Blake turning toward Sheskey with a knife in his hand immediately prior to the shooting. That officer said he too would have opened fire but did not have a clear angle, according to the lawyer.

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Authorities have said Blake had a knife in his possession and the weapon was found on the floorboard of the vehicle. But they have released few other details of the incident, citing the ongoing investigation.

CNN reached out to Blake's attorney, Benjamin Crump, for comment on Matthews' assertions, but did not receive a response prior to publication. However, Blake's lawyers have insisted he never posed a threat to the officers at any time during the encounter, and his father has denied his son was armed. "They shot my son seven times. Seven times. Like he didn't matter," Jacob Blake Sr., Blake's father, told reporters. "But my son matters. He's a human being, and he matters."

Blake was the aggressor at the scene, attorney says

But Matthews, who represents the Kenosha Professional Police Association, said Blake was the aggressor in the encounter, based on the statements Sheskey and Officer Vincent Arenas gave to state investigators earlier this month. The officers, he said, were simply doing their jobs. Blake has not been charged with any crimes stemming from the events of the day he was shot.

The shooting occurred minutes after Sheskey and fellow officers responded to a call of "family trouble" in a neighborhood a couple of miles northwest of downtown Kenosha. According to a dispatch log, a woman reported to police that Blake had taken her keys and would not give them back. Blake's family members later said he'd been attending a birthday party for one of his kids.

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James Blake, 29, was shot multiple times by Kenosha police as he leaned into his SUV with his young children inside.

Once at the scene, Sheskey watched Blake put one child in the car as he arrived but was unaware that two more children were already in the vehicle, Matthews said. Another officer heard a woman yelling that Blake had her children, he said, but did not see the kids in the car.

Some of what officers say happened next was described in a press release issued by the police association last month.

According to the release, Blake was non-cooperative from the outset and quickly became combative. When the officers attempted to physically take control of him, Blake "actively resisted."

An officer fired a Taser at him, but it did not stop him, the release states. When officers tried to take Blake into custody a second time, he forcefully fought with them and was able to momentarily place an officer in a headlock, the release said. Matthews said that officer was Sheskey.

Police then Tased Blake a second time and he again appeared unfazed, according to the police association statement.

At that point, Matthews said, officers noticed that Blake was holding a knife. Guns drawn, they demanded that he drop the weapon.

Blake, according to the police association statement, did not drop the weapon and began making his way around the front of the vehicle toward the driver's side door. Video of the incident shows Blake holding the knife in his left hand as he rounds the front of the car, the statement says. While it appears that Blake is holding an object in his hand, it is unclear what that object is, according to a CNN review of the video.

WARNING: Disturbing video -- Kenosha police shooting caught on video

Video posted on social media Sunday show one officer grabbing the man's shirt from behind and then firing into the vehicle.

Shortly after the release of the statement, Blake's lawyer disputed the police account as "overblown" and characterized the officers as the aggressors.

Raysean White, who shot video of the encounter, told CNN's Erin Burnett he twice heard police tell Blake to "drop the knife," but that he did not see a knife in Blake's hand. White disputed other aspects of the police account, but said it was possible some things occurred before he began witnessing the incident unfold.

The police version of events leading up to the shooting bore some similarity to an encounter allegedly involving Blake at the same address three months earlier.

In that case, a woman who described Blake as her ex-boyfriend said he took her car and debit card without her permission and made $1,000 in fraudulent withdrawals, according to court records. She told police at the time that Blake did not have a car and that he would not tell her where he was living, the court records state.

Blake was not charged with taking the car or money, but was charged with sexual assault and other offenses in connection with the incident. He was wanted in connection with those charges at the time of the shooting. Sheskey was aware that Blake was wanted, Matthews said, but did not know the details of the past incident prior to the shooting. Blake entered a not guilty plea to those charges earlier this month.

Matthews said while seven shots may seem excessive to some people, that number of shots is not out of line with other police shootings in Wisconsin and elsewhere that were later deemed justified. He also pointed to studies showing a lag time between an officer's decision to stop firing and actually doing so.

The lawyer said Sheskey ceased firing when he determined Blake "no longer posed an imminent threat."

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Matthews questioned early reports that Blake was shot seven times in the back. He said Sheskey and fellow officers administered first aid at the scene and did not see any gunshot wounds to Blake's back. Rather, he said, the officers reported seeing injuries to Blake's arms, side and abdomen.

The precise location of the gunshot wounds Blake sustained have not been made public. A news release from The Wisconsin Division of Criminal Investigation initially said Sheskey fired his weapon seven times "into Mr. Blake's back." The agency later changed the language to say Sheskey fired "towards Mr. Blake's back."

Sheskey 'absolutely did not want this to happen'

For Sheskey, the fallout from the highly publicized shooting has been devastating, his lawyer said.

He had to move out of his house and get rid of his phone because he's been hounded by reporters and depicted as a racist and brutal cop on the internet, Matthews said.

Matthews said his client has never pulled the trigger in the line of duty before now, and has no history of abusing suspects in his 10 years as a police officer, the last seven with Kenosha PD.

Rather, the lawyer described his client as a lifelong do-gooder, who as a young man served as a mentor on a cycling team for at-risk youth and worked as a lifeguard. He wanted to become a cop to continue helping people.

Matthews said Sheskey immediately dropped to the ground in the moments after the shooting and began rendering first aid to Blake and comforted him when he expressed fear that he was going to die.

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"He didn't go to work wanting to shoot anybody. He went to work trying to help people. That's what he does every day," Matthews said of Sheskey. "He absolutely did not want this to happen."

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