2nd probe: No charges in shooting of Minneapolis black man
For the second time this year, authorities say there is not enough evidence to charge two white Minneapolis police officers in the November shooting death of a black man after a confrontation.
Wednesday's announcement in the just-completed federal investigation is cold comfort to activists who protested 24-year-old Jamar Clark's death for weeks and remain outraged that both probes, the other released in March by a state prosecutor, came to the same conclusion.
"We are tired of what is happening, and what feels like Jim Crow North," Minneapolis NAACP President Nekima Levy-Pounds told reporters after U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger said there was insufficient evidence to support criminal civil rights charges against the two officers.
The officers, Mark Ringgenberg and Dustin Schwarze, were trying to arrest Clark when he was shot once in the head Nov. 15. He died a day later.
A key issue in both investigations was whether Clark was handcuffed when he was shot. The federal and state probes came to the same conclusion: Clark was not.
"Given the lack of bruising, the lack of Mr. Clark's DNA on the handcuffs and the deeply conflicting testimony about whether he was handcuffed, we determined that we could not pursue this case based on a prosecution theory that Mr. Clark was handcuffed at the time he was shot," Luger said at a news conference.
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman declined on March 30 to file criminal charges against the officers, also citing forensic evidence and conflicting witness accounts. Federal authorities went a step further, seeking an independent review of the Hennepin County autopsy by the Office of the Armed Forces Medical Examiner at the Department of Defense.
Luger said "highly contradictory" testimony from witnesses would make it too difficult to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Ringgenberg and Schwarze acted outside the law.
Clark's death set off weeks of protests, including an 18-day tent encampment outside the police department's 4th Precinct on the city's north side, located blocks from the shooting.
According to a Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension investigation, Clark refused to remove his hands from his pockets. The officers tried to handcuff him but failed. Ringgenberg wrestled Clark to the ground but wound up on his back atop Clark and felt Clark's hand on his weapon, according to the investigation.
Schwarze then shot Clark - an encounter that lasted barely more than a minute from the time the officers arrived.
"There are no winners here." Luger said. "A young man has died. And it is tragic."
Schwarze's attorney, Fred Bruno, noted the two independent investigations reached the same conclusion, saying: "The chances of that happening are pretty slim unless the facts are the facts and the officers are justified in doing what they did."
Ringgenberg's attorney, Bob Sicoli, said he hoped a pending internal investigation by the police department would be over quickly.
The U.S. Attorney's Office in Minnesota and the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division conducted the federal civil rights investigation on the request of Mayor Betsy Hodges, and were to determine whether the officers intentionally violated Clark's civil rights through excessive force. That's a high legal standard because an accident, bad judgment or simple negligence is not enough to bring federal charges.
With the federal investigation completed, Hodges said the city will proceed with the internal investigation.
"I understand this decision has struck at the heart of a painful tension in the community," Hodges said in a statement Wednesday. "What we can do now is move forward together to build a city that is safe and equitable for everyone."
The DOJ is also reviewing how the city responded to the protests. Though largely peaceful, one demonstration on Nov. 18 included some skirmishes between officers and protesters. At least one federal lawsuit has been filed accusing officers of excessive force during that demonstration.
A few days later on Nov. 23, five demonstrators were also shot and lightly wounded in what a county prosecutor said was a racially motivated attack. Four men - three white, one Asian - were charged. Those cases are pending.
Clark's death spurred state lawmakers to examine longstanding complaints of racial inequities, particularly on the impoverished north side of Minneapolis. Advocates requested more investment in minority-owned businesses and a summer job program for black teens, and lawmakers this spring set aside $35 million to tackle racial disparities.
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