Cities brace for protests as DA announces no criminal charges against officers in the shooting of Jacob Blake


KENOSHA, WI – Kenosha County District Attorney Michael Graveley has announced that no charges will be brought against the police officer who shot Jacob Blake outside an apartment building in August. The shooting became a flashpoint for protests.

In a press release Tuesday afternoon, Graveley called for peace as he announced that police officer Rusten Sheskey will not be criminally charged in the case. He said that Sheskey could make a legal defense of self-defense for the shooting. Graveley said:

“It’s a narrow task today, it’s a legal and professional task. If you don’t believe you can prove a case beyond a reasonable doubt, you have an ethical obligation not to issue charges.

Two other officers involved in the incident, Brittany Meronek and Vincent Arenas, will also not face charges.

Graveley, using a slideshow as he gave a detailed account of why the decision not to charge the officers, said that the existence of the arrest warrant was a major factor in the case:

“Officer Sheskey and these other officers do not have discretion on something like a felony assault warrant like this. When they come across Jacob Blake, they must attempt to arrest him.

They don’t have other options. They can’t say, ‘This guy is going fight with me, I’m not going to arrest him.’ There is no discretion in this regard.”

Graveley said there was “clearly” resistance to the officer’s attempt to arrest Blake, and he did think the resistance was clear in the videos. He said Blake failed to obey officers’ commands and officers attempted several methods to gain control of Blake.

Gravely said officers directed Blake to the ground and multiple officers grabbed his arms trying to secure him. Graveley said Blake admitted he struggled with officers:

“He (Blake) admits that at one point, ‘Officers were trying to handcuff me, but I was able to get up.’”

Calling it an important factor, Graveley said that the investigation showed that Blake was tased three times before the shooting and that the tasers appeared to have little effect.

Graveley then points out that Blake armed himself with a knife, which he called the “most important factor in the investigation:

“I continue to hear, I think I heard it at the rally last night, the vigil, where someone again said that he was unarmed.

“It is absolutely incontrovertible that Jacob Blake was armed with a knife during this encounter.

“He arms himself with a knife and refuses to drop that knife.”

Graveley shared an enhanced video showing that at one point during the struggle, Blake was on top of Officer Sheskey.

Sheskey responded to a report of “family trouble” at 5:11 p.m. on August 23. A woman called police reporting that her boyfriend, who was not supposed to be near her, took her keys and was refusing to return them. Dispatchers had warned officers that Blake had an arrest warrant for a domestic case in May.

Video captured by bystanders shows three officers with guns drawn following behind Blake as he walks from the sidewalk to the front of an SUV.  Two of the officers followed closely behind Blake with their guns drawn as he opened the driver’s side door.  

Police later said Blake was brandishing a knife and threatened to get a gun from the vehicle. Neither was clearly displayed in the video of the incident but was later confirmed during the investigation.

The District Attorney’s Office has requested a civil rights investigation into the incident by the Department of Justice.

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As Blake reaches into the vehicle, Sheskey grabs Blake’s shirt and shoots him in the back at close range. Seven shots could be heard on the video. After the shooting, the video shows police giving medical attention to Blake on the ground.

Blake survived the shooting but was left paralyzed.

The shooting turned a nation’s attention on Wisconsin just months after the killing of another black man, George Floyd, in Minneapolis sparked nationwide protests and violence. More than 250 people were arrested in the days following Blake’s shooting.

17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse was charged with killing two men and wounding a third with an assault rifle during rioting in the city.

Sheskey told investigators that he shot Blake because he was afraid Blake, while attempting to flee the scene, was trying to kidnap a child in the backseat of the vehicle. According to his attorney, Brendan Matthews, Sheskey heard a woman shouting, “He’s got my kids. He’s got my keys.”

Two young children were in the rear of the vehicle at the time of the incident.

Matthews claimed that if Sheskey had permitted Blake to drive away with the child, and something happened to that child, “the question would have been ‘why didn’t you do something?’”

The city has been on edge waiting for the decision from the District Attorney’s Office. Kenosha has been the site of regular demonstrations calling for charges against Sheskey. Many businesses have boarded up and streets have been closed in anticipation of the decision. National Guard members were deployed near the Kenosha County Courthouse.

Kenosha City Council passed an emergency resolution Monday giving the mayor authority to enact a curfew following the announcement. The Kenosha County Sheriff’s Office also declared a state of emergency to allow changes to deputy work schedules.

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