The accusations looked suspicious from the start. And now federal as well as state prosecutors have debunked them. On June 1, U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger announced that he would not pursue civil rights charges against two white Minneapolis police officers in connection with the November shooting death of an unruly black suspect, Jamar Clark. The probe concluded there was insufficient evidence that the cops, Mark Ringgenberg and Dustin Schwarze, had violated Clark’s rights. The oft-repeated claim that Clark was shot while handcuffed and lying on the ground could not be substantiated. The decision follows an earlier one on March 30 by the Hennepin County D.A. not to file criminal charges. Black activists are livid. They would do well to review the details.
National Legal and Policy Center summarized this incident and its reaction in January as part of a lengthy introductory article on the network of demagogues known as Black Lives Matter (BLM). This and subsequent articles have explained that this informal social media-driven organization, with dozens of chapters across the nation, only superficially is about seeking justice for innocent blacks. On a practical level, it is about exacting revenge upon innocent whites. Whether on city streets or on college campuses, the modus operandi of BLM activists is to concoct an illusion of a “crime” in which whites are complicit in some way, all the better to drive them from their jobs and possibly into prison. If these campaigns are not necessarily successful, it cannot be denied that they are causing whites across this country to be extra guarded in their everyday speech. It amounts to censorship, with government as a passive partner. Black Lives Matter is a millennium generation reboot of the rhetoric and tactics of established racial hustlers like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. And it has moral enablers in such high places as the NAACP, Time magazine and the Democratic Party, each of which promotes BLM as speaking truth to power. For more than a half-year, these and allied activists have used the death of Jamar Clark as an organizing tool, insisting this was a case of a racially-motivated police murder. Given the evidence in the final report of the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office, which incorporated video footage and oral testimony from wide range of sources, it was nothing of the sort. Consider the storyline.
It was a little after midnight on November 15, 2015. Inside Apartment #103 at 1611 Plymouth Avenue, on the north side of Minneapolis, people were attending a birthday party for a woman who resided there, Nekelia Sharp. Two of the attendees were a convicted multiple felon, Jamar Clark, age 24, and his on-and-off girlfriend, RayAnn Hayes, age 41. A number of Clark’s relatives were also there. It seemed like a normal party – for a while. At some point, for whatever reason, Ms. Sharp and her husband got into a heated argument inside a building hallway. RayAnn Hayes physically tried to intervene. Her boyfriend, Jamar Clark, not thinking much of this gesture, grabbed her and tried to pull her away. Fisticuffs between the couple ensued. This was no ordinary “lover’s quarrel.” During the fracas, Hayes injured her ankle, possibly breaking it. Lest one feel excessive sympathy for Hayes, eyewitnesses said she slammed Clark’s head into a door.
The night was still young. RayAnn Hayes called “911” to request an ambulance. Two EMS paramedics, Tyler Haskell and Wesley Thompson, soon arrived, parking their emergency vehicle in front of 1611 Plymouth Avenue. They went up to the host’s apartment where they found Hayes in a state of intoxication. The paramedics placed her in a “stair chair” and carried her downstairs. While exiting the building they found Jamar Clark standing outside, crying and “acting kind of odd.” As the duo walked past Clark, Hayes told them, “That’s the guy who did this to me.” During the course of transferring Hayes to an ambulance stretcher, Clark approached them, claiming he was her son. Hayes asserted to the paramedics that he was not her son. Clark then turned around and called Thompson a “pussy” and a “bitch.” He also told his girlfriend that he was accompanying her to the hospital, like it or not. Haskell and Thompson proceeded to load Hayes into the ambulance, got inside with her, locked the doors, and dispatched police backup to the scene. Jamar Clark didn’t like this. According to Tyler Haskell, Clark continuously knocked on the back window in hopes of getting in. An ambulance video confirmed this.
Shortly after Ms. Hayes was put into the ambulance, EMS Deputy Chief Michael Trullinger, aware of the emergency call, arrived on the scene. He saw Jamar Clark slapping the back of the ambulance, apparently still harboring the illusion that RayAnn Hayes was his mom. When asked his name, Clark, less than coherent, told Trullinger it was “Darious,” “Tyrious” or “something like that.” And he displayed disturbing body language, alternating between throwing his hands up in the air and putting hands in his pockets. Trullinger asked Clark to step aside. Clark complied but continued to aggressively fidget. Magnifying the security problem was a logistical one. Due to new security features in the ambulance, paramedics could not move from the patient area to the driver area without getting out of the vehicle. Unfortunately, as long as Jamar Clark was in the immediate area, the paramedics felt they could not exit and re-enter safely.
At this point, two Minneapolis police officers, Mark Ringgenberg and Dustin Schwarze, arrived on the scene from the 4th Precinct station house a few blocks away. The cops parked their squad car just behind Michael Trullinger’s Chevy Suburban vehicle right next to 1611 Plymouth Avenue. Trullinger told Officers Ringgenberg and Schwarze that the person in the ambulance had been assaulted by Clark, who was standing on the curb and interfering with the paramedics. Trullinger then walked over to the ambulance to talk with the paramedics and RayAnn Hayes. Ringgenberg and Schwarze, meanwhile, approached Jamar Clark. Noticing Clark’s hands were in his pockets, they told him to take his hands out. Clark refused. Ringgenberg took his gun out of his holster and held it downward; he was not taking aim at Clark. Clark yelled back, “What’s the pistol for?” The officers again, and more than once, told Clark to remove his hands from his pockets. Once again, Clark did not comply. This time, Ringgenberg put the gun back in his holster and grabbed Clark’s right wrist; Officer Schwarze grabbed his left wrist. Schwarze had his handcuffs out but was unable to get them on Clark.
It was now about 12:45 A.M. And things quickly would go from bad to worse. Seeing that Clark was resisting arrest, Officer Ringgenberg reached his arm around Clark’s chest and neck, and took him down to the ground. Ringgenberg landed on his side on top of Clark, who was lying on his back, and then, reflexively, tried to move to a position of handcuffing the suspect. It was at that point when Ringgenberg felt his gun being removed from his right hip to the small of his back. He yelled to Schwarze, “He’s got my gun,” and reached back to the top of his gun, where he felt Clark’s “whole” hand. Ringgenberg twice repeated the phrase to his partner, “He’s got my gun.” Schwarze put his gun to the edge of Clark’s mouth and told Clark to let go of Ringgenberg’s gun or he would have to shoot. Clark’s reply: “I’m ready to die.” Schwarze sensed this was a case of life and death. Being “ready to die” in this context very easily can be taken to mean being ready to kill. Schwarze pulled the trigger, but the revolver did not fire because the slide was partially pulled back. Schwarze then heard Ringgenberg shout in a panicked voice, “Shoot him.” At that point, Schwarze pulled the trigger and the gun fired once, hitting Jamar Clark in the head.
Suddenly there were two emergency medical cases. Michael Trullinger, seeing Jamar Clark lying on his back bleeding with his arms to his side, called for an ambulance, while Hayes was being transported to North Memorial Medical Center. Trullinger rushed to Clark, checked his pulse, ran to his own truck, and retrieved his trauma bag. He also noticed a pair of handcuffs on the ground near Clark, somewhere around his hips. A backup police officer, Anna Hedberg, was among the first of several officers to arrive. She witnessed Trullinger providing first aid, and like him, noticed a pair of handcuffs on the ground with the clasps open. She stayed near Clark for a short time and helped with crowd control. Paramedics Mari Hill and Tyler Lupkes arrived on the scene at around 12:55 A.M. and witnessed Trullinger assisting Clark. Hill asked another officer, Jason Reimer, for help in checking Clark for weapons. While Hill and Lupkes were moving Clark to a stretcher, they also noticed open handcuffs in the grass next to Clark. Lupkes grabbed the cuffs by the hinge and moved them out of the way so paramedics could move Clark onto the stretcher. After loading Clark onto the stretcher, the paramedics then locked up the vehicle and drove off to Hennepin County Medical Center.
Meanwhile, Ringgenberg and Schwarze were facing another kind of danger. The assembled black crowd was visibly restless that a pair of white cops had shot a black suspect. Officer Jeff Sworski, lead officer on the scene, arrived within minutes of the shooting. Concerned for his colleagues’ safety, he removed them from the area and drove them to the 4th Precinct station, in the process taking possession of Schwarze’s gun. Once having arrived, the pair were placed in separate offices and read a public safety statement. Crime scene investigators took photographs of Schwarze and Ringgenberg, collected their firearms for forensic analysis, retrieved their squad car key, and placed the officers on routine administrative leave, pending an investigation. They also examined the area where Clark had been shot and collected nine separate items of video evidence. Minneapolis police also interviewed numerous eyewitnesses. In other words, the police left no stone unturned. They did what police everywhere are supposed to do in such a situation.
Jamar Clark was not long for this world. On November 16, 9:32 P.M., less than 48 hours after being shot, he died at Hennepin County Medical Center. County Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Andrew Baker conducted an autopsy the following day, concluding that the cause of death was a single gunshot to the head. A toxicology examination revealed Clark’s judgment may have been impaired. His blood alcohol content was .09, a little above the Minnesota legal limit of .08. And he had THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, in his system. Baker also examined Clark’s wrists, externally and internally, for signs of trauma. He determined there were “no occult contusions (bruises), or other injuries suggestive of restraint.” A statement by Minneapolis Police Chief Janee Harteau on November 16 supported this finding.
To make a long story short, there was no evidence that local authorities had engaged in misconduct, either by commission or omission, in the case of Jamar Clark. The case for his death as a “hate crime” was implausible. Unfortunately, a lot of people in the Twin Cities area, and in short order the nation, didn’t believe that. Since Clark was black and the two initial police officers on the scene were white, many reasoned, race had to be the prime motive for the shooting. News of the incident spread quickly. The NAACP issued a statement condemning the death and demanded an independent investigation. Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges announced she had contacted both the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Minnesota to request a probe in the “interest of transparency and community confidence.” The Minnesota’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension already had begun its own investigation.
Street activists, led by members of Black Lives Matter, expressed their opposition in a more unconventional manner. A large group gathered in the middle of the street in front of the Minneapolis Police Department’s 4th Precinct building to protest the shooting; spokespersons claimed that police were hiding dashboard and body camera video footage that could prove that a murder had been committed. This was not a peaceful protest. Protestors blocked traffic. Several among them also took over the lobby inside the building. By any definition, this amounted to criminal trespassing. Neither Mayor Hodges nor Police Chief Harteau seemed willing to arrest anyone. For 18 days, the round-the-clock makeshift encampment remained. On the night of November 23, a group of alleged “white supremicists” shot and wounded several protestors. Evidence suggested that the “attackers” had acted self-defense after being chased by blacks for a number of city blocks. Attorneys for the four accused persons in March filed for a dismissal, saying they had video evidence exonerating their clients. Belatedly, during the wee hours of December 3, police officers arrived at the street encampment to hand out fliers telling the occupiers to vacate the area within 10 minutes. Most of the demonstrators left. Eight refused and were arrested.
The investigations continued. Hennepin County was the first to report. On March 30, following an exhaustive four-month probe, District Attorney Mike Freeman announced that his office would not be charging Minneapolis Police Officers Mark Ringgenberg or Justin Schwarze in the shooting death of Jamar Clark. A little over two months later, on June 1, the Justice Department announced that it would not pursue civil rights charges against the officers. In both cases, investigators concluded that Clark was not handcuffed, or immobilized in any other way, when shot. The bar of proof would have been high. “I want you to understand that this is one of the highest legal standards under criminal law,” said U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger at a press conference following the federal investigation. “It is not enough to show the officers made a mistake or acted negligently by accident or even that they exercised bad judgment to prove a crime. We would have had to show that they specifically intended to commit a crime.”
The Hennepin County probe was very specific. District Attorney Mike Freeman acknowledged that a pair of handcuffs were on the scene, but asserted that “forensic evidence established that Clark was not handcuffed.” The final report put it this way:
In resolving these conflicting accounts (i.e., over Jamar Clark being handcuffed), prosecutors look to objective evidence – where it is available – to determine what happened. Forensic examination showing Clark’s DNA on Ringgenberg’s holster and mace holder is strong evidence that Clark was grabbing for Ringgenberg’s gun and therefore not handcuffed. The absence of Clark’s DNA on the inside of the handcuffs is similarly strong evidence that Clark was not handcuffed.
If Clark was handcuffed and thrown to the ground with Ringgenberg wrestling on top of Clark, there is a reasonable expectation that there would be some internal or external injuries or marks to Clark’s wrists from the metal handcuffs. There was no such evidence. Photos taken of Clark’s wrists at the hospital do not show injuries or marks. Importantly, the forensic autopsy performed by Dr. Baker did not show any external or internal “evidence of restraint.”
Finally, the video evidence is consistent with the statements that Clark was not handcuffed and was grabbing at Ringgenberg’s gun.
In addition to the handcuff issue was the issue over the proper use of lethal force. In other words, even accepting that Jamar Clark had not been handcuffed, prosecutors also had to consider the possibility that Officers Ringgenberg and especially Schwarze acted unreasonably. Here, too, they concluded that a prosecution would have been on shaky ground. The 1985 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Tennessee v. Garner, stated that the use of deadly force by an officer of the law is justified if the officer “has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a threat of serious bodily harm either to the officer or to others.” As regards the use of force generally, the Supreme Court later established a reasonableness test in its 1989 ruling, Graham v. Connor. Mindful that each case is unique, said the Court, police must consider three factors above all in contemplating the use of force: 1) the severity of the crime; 2) whether the suspect poses an immediate threat to the safety of the officer or others; and 3) whether the suspect is actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest by flight. The Court acknowledged that law enforcement officers often must make decisions based on split-second judgment.
Minnesota statutes, like those in other states, reflect these benchmarks. A peace officer in Minnesota may use deadly force “to protect the peace officer or another from apparent death or great bodily harm.” By any reasonable assessment, stated the Hennepin County report, Jamar Clark represented a real threat to the safety, and very likely to the life, of Officers Ringgenberg and Schwarze. The report explained:
The evidence…does not support the filing of criminal charges against Officers Dustin Schwarze and Mark Ringgenberg for the fatal shooting of Jamar Clark. At the time he was shot, Clark was attempting to gain control of Ringgenberg’s firearm. Schwarze reasonably believed that if Clark had succeeded in removing his firearm from his holster, Clark would have shot both officers as well as exposed third parties to the danger of injury by firearm. Ringgenberg and Clark were wrestling on the ground in a position which rendered Ringgenberg unable to remove Clark’s hand from his firearm. Ringgenberg communicated to Schwarze that Clark had his firearm and that Schwarze should shoot Clark. Schwarze did so. Schwarze’s action was reasonable given both his own observations and Ringgenberg’s plea to shoot Clark.
Based on this evidence, it would be impossible for any rational person, regardless of race, to argue the case for the two cops to have committed murder. The U.S. Department of Justice, whose report was released last Wednesday, came to the same conclusion from the standpoint of whether Clark’s rights had been violated. The FBI, Justice Department prosecutors and the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) interviewed approximately 110 witnesses. And the BCA lab reviewed and/or analyzed 141 submitted items and produced 21 reports, which included such issues as DNA and blood spatter reports. Had the case gone to trial, said U.S. Attorney Luger, the police officers’ defense attorneys would have zeroed in the large volume of conflicting witness statements and other evidence.
Black civil rights activists insist this was a police murder. No amount of evidence, however carefully gathered and analyzed, it seemed, would convince them otherwise. Minneapolis NAACP President Nekima Levy-Pounds demanded a “paradigm shift” in the wake of the Justice Department announcement. Convinced there was a miscarriage of justice, she fumed: “We are in a land of disparities and a land in which we are treated like second-class citizens. No matter how hard we try, no matter how hard we pound the pavement, no matter how much we lift our voices, they don’t want to give us justice.” And on March 30, a black group, Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, released the following statement in conjunction with rallies in Minneapolis in response to the decision of Hennepin County authorities not to prosecute Officers Ringgenberg and Schwarze: “We are deeply disappointed at today’s non-indictment of the police officers who executed Jamar Clark, which sends a clear message that the Minneapolis police may act as judge, jury, and executioner in interactions with unarmed black men.” It’s hard to determine which stands out more: the absurdity of the accusation or the arrogance of its tone.
These and similar public expressions are oblivious both to the idea of rule of law and the specifics of the case. Like it or not, justice was done. The weight of evidence overwhelmingly points to one conclusion: The killing of Jamar Clark was due to his violently resisting arrest. “Civil rights” radicals, unfortunately, operate on a different standard. In their world, suspicion equals proof if it is a white suspected of doing something bad to a black. The insistence that blacks are second-class citizens in America, moreover, is nonsense. As regards police relations, the reverse may be true. A recent study by researchers at Washington State University concluded that white police officers are three times less likely to shoot unarmed black suspects than unarmed white suspects.
Minnesota Police Union President Lt. Bob Kroll, in praising the Justice Department decision, denounced City officials for creating “a dangerous and unproductive atmosphere” in allowing black activists to effectively lay siege to a precinct station house. He singled out Black Lives Matter as a “terrorist organization.” Police Chief Harteau criticized Kroll, saying that his comments do not speak for his department and that “Many are frustrated and find his comments divisive.” In fact, his comments were reasonable. It is violent crime, and the official enabling of it, that divides communities. Nobody here is defending police excessive force. But this was not such a case. Far from mediating the situation, Black Lives Matter activists escalated it. The result very easily could have been another tragic incident. Officers Ringgenberg and Schwarze, by the way, aren’t out of the woods yet. A probe by Minneapolis Police Internal Affairs is ongoing. And a lawyer representing several of Clark’s siblings said that the family members are planning to sue the officers. The prospect of an exorbitant jury award may induce the defendants to settle out of court.
A functioning criminal justice system cannot cater to the whims of a group claiming, in a loud and threatening voice, that its members have an implicit right to threaten or commit violence. Under rule of law, one standard of evidence must apply to all citizens. Black Lives Matter and its “mainstream” allies refuse to understand this. At least the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, despite its longstanding selective fervor in prosecuting race-related cases, does. And so does the Hennepin County prosecutor’s office. The sensible conclusions of each agency should set a precedent for similar cases elsewhere.