MILWAUKEE (CN) --- A Black man whose shooting by police in Wisconsin last year ignited civil rights protests sued the officer who shot him in Milwaukee federal court Thursday.
Kenosha Police Officer Rusten Sheskey shot Jacob Blake seven times while responding to reports of a domestic disturbance on Aug. 23, 2020, leaving Blake paralyzed from the waist down. Widely circulated video footage showed Blake being shot by Sheskey as he tried to get into an SUV with two of his kids in the backseat.
Several nights of protests followed Blake's shooting. Some turned violent and destructive, resulting in more than two dozen businesses and multiple vehicles being torched and prompting Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers, a Democrat, to declare a state of emergency and mobilize National Guard troops in the two days after Blake was shot.
On the third night of protests, three protesters were shot and two were killed. Illinois resident Kyle Rittenhouse has since been charged with felony murder in connection with the shootings, to which he has pleaded not guilty by reason of self-defense.
Kenosha County District Attorney Michael Graveley announced in January that no criminal charges would be brought against Sheskey or the two other officers on the scene at the time of Blake's shooting. Evers again mobilized the National Guard as the community braced for another round of protests in response to the announcement, but they never materialized en masse.
Graveley explained that Sheskey would not be criminally prosecuted because he did not believe Sheskey's privilege of self-defense could be defeated beyond a reasonable doubt in court, in part because Blake was armed with a knife at the time of the shooting and it was Graveley's determination based on the evidence that Blake wielded it with "offensive intent."
Representatives with the Kenosha Police Department did not immediately respond on Thursday to a request for comment on Blake's civil complaint or confirmation as to whether Sheskey remains on administrative leave.
Blake's complaint, which has been assigned to U.S. Magistrate Judge Stephen Dries in Milwaukee district court, says that Blake was attending his son's birthday party on the day of his shooting when he got into a dispute with a female neighbor over whether he was supposed to be there, resulting in the neighbor calling the police.
The complaint states that Sheskey and two other officers arrived within three minutes of being dispatched and that without giving any verbal commands, Sheskey grabbed Blake by the wrist before physically attacking him, putting him in a headlock and tasing him three times.
According to the lawsuit, Blake got to his feet, picked up a folding utility knife he had dropped, walked around the front of his SUV, opened the driver's side door and threw the knife on the passenger's side floor mat while the officers followed him with guns drawn. Sheskey then grabbed the back of Blake's T-shirt as Blake tried to get into the SUV before shooting him seven times, all after Blake had visibly dropped his knife and never initiated confrontation or threatened the officers, the lawsuit states.
The filing claims Sheskey and the other officers were not interviewed about the shooting for two or three days after it occurred, during which time they "conferred extensively with attorneys and union representatives as to what the claimed justification would ultimately be" for shooting Blake, while Blake was interviewed sedated in his hospital bed hours after being shot. None of the officers' interviews were recorded, none of them gave statements under oath, and the complaint claims "some officers deactivated their audio microphones in the aftermath of the shooting and/or cautioned each other to remain silent."
Blake is represented in his federal civil lawsuit -- claiming Fourth Amendment excessive force violations and seeking unspecified damages -- by Patrick Salvi and others with the Chicago-based Salvi, Schostok & Pritchard firm. Prominent civil rights attorneys Ben Crump and B'Ivory Lamarr, based in Washington, D.C., and Houston, respectively, are also signed onto Blake's complaint.
Salvi lamented the shooting’s physical toll on Blake in a press statement Thursday, noting that one of the bullets fired by Sheskey severed Blake’s spinal cord and “after various surgical procedures and an agonizing course of physical rehabilitation, Jacob remains unable to return to his job as a security guard and relies on others to assist him with the basic needs of daily living.”
Crump, who also has represented the families of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd in recent lawsuits involving deadly police force, said “the path to ending police brutality is a long and grinding one, but the fight for systemic change in policing and transparency—and for justice—can only happen with accountability. And that is what we hope to achieve with this filing.”
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