Two Minneapolis police officers followed proper procedure in a confrontation that led to the fatal shooting of Jamar Clark in November, and won’t face discipline, the city’s police chief announced.
Chief Janee Harteau said Friday that an internal investigation found the officers were warranted in using deadly force in the death of the 24-year-old black man. Clark was shot in the head on Nov. 15 in a confrontation with Officers Mark Ringgenberg and Dustin Schwarze on the city’s north side. His death set off protests that lasted several weeks, including an 18-day encampment around the area’s police precinct.
A local prosecutor and the US attorney both declined earlier to charge the officers — both white — in Clark’s death, citing conflicting testimony from witnesses.
“These officers did not dictate the outcome of this incident,” Harteau said. “I can say with absolute certainty that I support the actions of Officers Ringgenberg and Schwarze the night of Nov. 15.” Some witnesses told police that Clark was handcuffed at the time.
But an investigation by the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension found that the officers had tried and failed to handcuff Clark, and he was shot in the ensuing confrontation after one of the officers shouted that Clark had his hand on the officer’s gun.
Investigators said Ringgenberg wrestled Clark to the ground but wound up on his back atop Clark and felt Clark’s hand on his weapon. Schwarze then shot Clark in an encounter that lasted barely a minute. An attorney for Clark’s family said they were anguished and frustrated by the decision.
“To say they couldn’t find any policy violation verges on the absurd,” said Albert Goins, who represents Clark’s sister Tiffany Roberson. He said the family will file a civil lawsuit, but wouldn’t say when. Bob Kroll, the head of the police union, said it was about time the officers were cleared. He noted they have been through nearly a year of investigations and relegated to desk duty.
“It’s been devastating for them,” he said, adding that he expected them to return to patrols.
Police have said Ringgenberg and Schwarze were responding to a reported assault when they arrived to find Clark interfering with paramedics trying to help the female victim. They said the officers tried to calm him, but a struggle ensued.
In explaining her decision, Harteau cited what she called two key findings by the BCA investigation: That Clark wasn’t handcuffed and that his DNA was found on Ringgenberg’s holster and gun. She called it a dangerous situation that justified deadly force. She said Ringgenberg’s takedown of Clark after he refused to take his hands out of his pockets was “not a chokehold” and was appropriate as a move to bring Clark to the ground — “the most effective place to gain control of someone.”
A separate US Department of Justice inquiry is underway into the city’s response to the protests. Demonstrations were largely peaceful, but one on Nov. 18 included skirmishes between officers and protesters that sparked at least one federal lawsuit.
Eight months later, protests were reignited when police fatally shot another black man, Philando Castile, during a traffic stop in the St. Paul suburb of Falcon Heights. The gruesome aftermath of the shooting was streamed live on Facebook by Castile’s girlfriend. Prosecutors are still weighing a decision on whether to charge the officer involved.