Blake family calls no charges decision a 'slap in the face'
KENOSHA, Wis. (WLS) -- Kenosha was prepared for unrest, but none materialized after prosecutors said Tuesday no charges would be filed in the shooting of Jacob Blake by police officers over the summer.
Blake was shot several times in the back on Aug. 23. The shooting left him paralyzed from the waist down and led to violent protests, riots and looting.
The officer involved in the shooting, identified by authorities as Officer Rusten Sheskey, nor any other officers, nor Blake himself will face any charges, District Attorney Michael Gravely said Tuesday afternoon.
Gravely and his team took nearly two hours to contextualize what he called a "domestic incident." Gravely described how the mother of Blake's children, Laquisha Booker, called 911 to report Blake took the keys to her rental car and was planning to take off with the vehicle and their children. He played the audio of that 911 call for the press.
Police arrived knowing there was a felony arrest warrant for Blake, and Gravely confirmed that Blake had a knife on them, which they say he admitted to state investigators.
Use of force expert and former Madison Police Chief Noble Wray said the officers' actions that day were in line with police training and protocol.
"They did not have any choice, drawing the firearms after the physical measures did not work," Wray said.
Gravely maintained he would not be able to convince a jury that Officer Sheskey did not fear for his life in that moment, or that harm would not come to others if he hadn't acted in self-defense.
"When there is enough information to raise self-defense, the burden of proof is on the state, it's on the prosecutor to disprove self-defense. So we would have to disprove the clear expression of these officers that they had to fire a weapon to defend themselves, they have to disprove that negative," he said.
Sheskey and the other officers who were at the scene have been placed on administrative leave and remain on administrative leave for the moment, the police department said.
"This really illustrates why these cases against police officers are so difficult to bring because they have to show the government would have to show that the police officer did not reasonably believe that deadly force was necessary to prevent either his death, or his serious bodily injury and the evidence here, showed that there was a knife I don't think that was in dispute," said ABC7 Legal Analyst Gil Soffer. "And so the government has to show that the officer didn't reasonably fear that Jacob Blake, use the knife against them. Clearly they concluded they couldn't prove that."
Chicago and Wisconsin criminal defense attorney Anthony Burch said if a jury did look at what happened here last summer they might determine that police were criminally heavy-handed.
"What was the threat level to him? One way of describing it might not be that Mr. Blake was attempting to flee. It might be an argument might have been made, he was attempting to defuse the situation," Burch said.
Burch's takeaway from the unusual public closing argument by the prosecutor is that he could have won it at trial.
"The facts presented by the state's attorney during this press conference could have been presented in a different way, where a trier of fact would be able to come up with a guilty verdict against officers Sheskey," he said.
Gravely called Blake personally to tell him no charges would be filed. Blake's family was heartbroken and furious.
"This is a slap in the face by the Wisconsin government and DA perpetuating systemic racism. Where was justice?" said Justin Blake, Jacob's uncle. "It's 2021; we're going to call everything for what it is. He was a racist. He attempted murder on my nephew. He should be fired, indicted and convicted."
They've marched for months, demanding charges be filed, but it didn't happen.
"We're unhappy with what was said today. We expected it; it did not sideswipe us or jump us from the backside. We understood what was gonna come when they called in the National Guard," Blake's father Jacob Blake Sr. said while speaking in Chicago after the announcement.
Blake's uncle, family in Kenosha and community organizers led another march Tuesday night after the verdict.
"Each and every day we get up and strap our boots on and get in the fight because we don't have a choice," Justin Blake said.
Blake's attorney said he was the victim that night and the video proves it.
"Shooting an individual seven times while walking away from an officer constitutes all the elements of intentional homicide were met," said B'Ivory Lamarr, attorney.
There is an ongoing federal civil rights investigation into the shooting, and the family said they intend to pursue a civil case as well.
Justin Blake and activists also noted that while they were waiting for the outcome of Jacob's case, this fight has always been bigger than Jacob Blake and Kenosha police.
"The power's in us to make change, if you really believe what this government is built on," Justin Blake told the protest.
Benjamin Crump, one of the attorneys representing Blake, released a statement after the decision was announced, saying in part, "We are immensely disappointed in Kenosha District Attorney Michael Gravely's decision not to charge the officers involved in this horrific shooting. We feel this decision failed not only Jacob and his family, but the community that protested and demanded justice. Officer Sheskey's actions sparked outrage and advocacy throughout the country, but the District Attorney's decision not to charge the officer who shot Jacob in the back multiple times, leaving him paralyzed, further destroys trust in our justice system. This sends the wrong message to police officers throughout the country. It says it is OK for police to abuse their power and recklessly shoot their weapon, destroying the life of someone who was trying to protect his children."
The Kenosha City Council voted unanimously Monday night to approve an emergency declaration that would go into effect immediately following the decision. Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers has also authorized the Wisconsin National Guard to assist in controlling any civil unrest.
Gov. Evers released a statement following the charging decision, saying in part, "Today's decision is further evidence that our work is not done-we must work each day in earnest toward a more just, more fair, and more equitable state and country, and to combat the racism experienced by Black Wisconsinites. I hope for peace and justice for Jacob, his family, and the entire Kenosha community. I reaffirm my commitment to action to build a more just, more equitable state for every Wisconsinite. And I ask those who will exercise their right to assemble tonight and in the days ahead to please do so peacefully and safely."
Cries for justice have now spanned seasons. In sweltering summer heat to frigid winter evenings, activists have circled the now snow-covered streets of Kenosha demanding the officer be fired.
"Based on what's happened in our country, it's probably not going to go in Jacob's favor because they don't value us, our lives. They value the properties and businesses," said Tanya McLean, an activist with Leaders of Kenosha.
NBA superstar LeBron James spoke with ESPN on the no charges decision late Tuesday night.
"To hear what happened in Kenosha today was a blow to the heart and to the gut. ... We gotta continue to stay strong and continue to believe in each other," James said.
Mayor John Antaramian and Police Chief Daniel Miskinis said they are working on plans to protect peaceful protests and prevent the unrest like that seen in the days following the shooting.
The Blake family led a small protest Tuesday night but emphatically said they do not support any violence in the wake of the decision.
WATCH: Kenosha businesses board up, bracing for potential civil unrest
Some Kenosha businesses boarded up again in anticipation of the charging decision.
But on Wednesday, business owners were thankful all was quiet.
Workers that boarded up at Frank's Diner in downtown Kenosha fearing a repeat of the civil unrest they saw in August were grateful for Tuesday night's peaceful expression.
"I helped board up on Monday with one of my co-workers. And it's certainly a sense of relief knowing that there is nothing violent or anything going on," Frank's Diner employee Austin Babel said. "It's nice to have a calm, quiet, easy morning again."
Justin Blake said his nephew is focused on his recovery and an inspiration to his family. He wanted to encourage the community to come together call for justice in his case. He said they are hoping for charges in this case, but are pleading with the community to stay peaceful.
"People have the right to be upset," Justin Blake said. "We are just asking them to be upset and make a lot of noise with the Blake family today, without being destructive."
Kyle Rittenhouse pleaded not guilty Tuesday to shooting two people to death and wounding a third during last summer's unrest in Kenosha.
Chicago police are also monitoring for any fallout after the Blake decision.
In a statement, CPD said it's "closely monitoring the events in Kenosha" and "appropriate resources and staffing levels will be maintained" to keep the city safe.