KENOSHA — Jacob Blake's attorneys filed a federal lawsuit Thursday against the Kenosha police officer who shot him seven times in the back last summer, leading to massive protests and unrest in Wisconsin and across the country.
The Kenosha County District Attorney, Michael Graveley, declined to file criminal charges against the officer, Rusten Sheskey, last January, seven months after the shooting.
Blake was sent to the hospital, paralyzed from the waist down. He remains in recovery.
Sheskey was responding to a domestic call last August when he says he thought Blake was reaching for a knife, and could harm a child. That's when Sheskey opened fire, hitting Blake seven times in the back.
Blake and his legal team argue in the lawsuit that Sheskey used excessive force. Blake is represented by civil rights attorney Ben Crump, attorney Patrick A. Salvi II of Salvi Schostok and Pritchard, and attorney B’Ivory LaMarr of The LaMarr Firm, PLLC.
Kenosha's City Administrator, John W. Morrissey, issued the following statement:
"The incident has been thoroughly examined by the Wisconsin Department of Justice, and former City of Madison Police Chief and use-of-force expert Noble Wray. Based on their findings and independent reports, the City of Kenosha will vigorously defend this case."
The suit filed Thursday only states Sheskey as the defendant. The suit seeks a jury trial.
Jacob Blake's case against Officer Rusten Sheskey
Blake's lawyers argue in the lawsuit that on Aug. 23, the day of the shooting, Blake attended a gathering to celebrate his son's birthday on in Kenosha. The mother of one of his children, Laquisha Booker, invited Blake to the gathering, the suit states.
Following a verbal dispute between Booker and a neighbor, Blake decided to leave the area with two of his sons, to avoid a confrontation between the two women, according to the suit.
At around 5:11 p.m., Booker called Kenosha police and told officers that she had allowed Blake to come to the home but that he “wasn’t supposed to be there," the suit states, citing Brooker.
Kenosha police officers, including Sheskey, were dispatched to the home for what was reported to be 'family trouble.'
The suit states that within three minutes, officers arrived at the home, just as Blake was putting one of his sons into the back of a Dodge SUV.
Blake's lawyers say the officers, including Sheskey, approached Blake.
The suit states that Sheskey did not announce any intention to arrest Blake and did not give any verbal command for Blake to place his bands behind his back to be handcuffed.
The suit states Sheskey instead grabbed Blake by the wrist and began to apply physical force to his arm, as Blake was in the process of putting one of his children in the SUV.
Blake's lawyers say that believing he was about to be attacked by police, Blake tensed up his arm and attempted to maintain his balance by putting his hands on top of the car.
That's when Sheskey and the other officers began to physically attack Sheskey by putting Blake in a headlock, "punching and choking him, and shocking him with a taser on three occasions," according to the lawsuit.
The suit states that as Blake struggled to his feet, "he retrieved a folding utility knife off the ground that he had previously dropped."
After retrieving the knife, Blake began to walk away from the officers in a counterclockwise direction around the SUV, until he reached the driver's side door and placed his hands on the door handle, according to his lawyers.
Meanwhile, the officers drew their weapons, the suit states. The lawyers say four women and a toddler stood just feet from Blake and the officers.
The lawsuit states that at no time during those moments did Blake try to run away from the officers, attempt to strike the officers, verbally threaten the officers or anyone else, or point the knife towards the officers.
As Blake opened the driver's side door, Officer Sheskey grabbed Blake's t-shirt and pulled him backward. The suit states Blake "immediately" threw the knife onto the floorboard of the SUV. Blake's attorneys say all of Blake's motions, including the dropping of the knife, were visible to Sheskey.
As Sheskey continued to pull Blake backward, Sheskey fired his pistol seven times in point-blank range.
The suit states that when Sheskey opened fire, at least four women and one toddler stood on opposite sides of the SUV "and were in imminent danger from being hit by gunfire and/or ricocheting bullets or fragments thereof."
Suit: Unfair investigation
The suit states that following the shooting, Sheskey and the other officers were not interviewed by investigators until two to three days later, "and only after they had conferred extensively with attorneys and union representatives as to what the claimed justification would ultimately be for shooting" Blake.
The lawsuit states the officers' refused to have any aspect of their interviews with investigators recorded, and none of their statements were given under oath. The lawsuit further states the officers deactivated their audio microphones following the shooting "and/or cautioned each other to remain silent."
In contrast, Blake was interviewed within hours of the shooting, when DCI agents appeared next to his ICU hospital bed. Blake at the time was heavily sedated and in "intractable" pain, according to his lawyers.
"As a direct and proximate result of the Defendant’s misconduct as fully detailed herein, [Blake] suffered grave physical and psychological injuries that included physical harm from six gunshot wounds, permanent paralysis, disfigurement and disability, as well as great mental anguish, humiliation, degradation, loss of reputation and anxiety, according to the lawsuit.
Blake's attorneys issued the following statement after the lawsuit was filed:
"This complaint, which contains still images showing the position of Mr. Blake and Officer Sheskey at the moment each of the seven shots was fired, refutes any notion that the shooting was justified to protect any officer or third person. By viewing this event as it occurred through the photographic and video evidence taken by eyewitnesses, it is clear that the hail of gunfire fired into the back of Mr. Blake in the presence of his children was excessive and unnecessary for which there must be accountability in a court of law."
District Attorney's Office's position
An investigation launched by the DOJ's Division of Criminal Investigation following the shooting found that Blake admitted to having a knife in his possession during the incident. DCI agents later found a knife in the driver’s side floorboard of Blake's vehicle. No other weapons were found.
Sheskey, Officer Vincent Arenas, and Officer Brittany Meronek were placed on administrative leave pending the investigation.
DA Graveley said none of the officers involved in the shooting will face charges. He also added that Blake wouldn't be charged.
“This case has to be laser-focused on what a jury trial would look like," the DA said during Tuesday's press conference. “Those are the things that would be primary and almost none of those things would be answered by the deeply disturbing video that we have all seen.”
He continued: “It is absolutely incontrovertible that Jacob Blake was armed with a knife during this encounter.”
Police union's perspective on shooting
The union representing Kenosha police officers issued their own understanding of the shooting. Below is their statement, issued Aug. 28
- The officers were dispatched to the location due to a complaint that Mr. Blake was attempting to steal the caller’s keys/vehicle.
- Officers were aware of Mr. Blake’s open warrant for felony sexual assault (3rd degree) before they arrived on scene.
- Mr. Blake was not breaking up a fight between two females when officers arrived on scene.
- The silver SUV seen in the widely circulated video was not Mr. Blake’s vehicle.
- Mr. Blake was not unarmed. He was armed with a knife. The officers did not see the knife initially. The officers first saw him holding the knife while they were on the passenger side of the vehicle. The “main” video circulating on the internet shows Mr. Blake with the knife in his left hand when he rounds the front of the car. The officers issued repeated commands for Mr. Blake to drop the knife. He did not comply.
- The officers initially tried to speak with Mr. Blake, but he was uncooperative.
- The officers then began issuing verbal commands to Mr. Blake, but he was non-complaint.
- The officers next went “hands-on” with Mr. Blake, so as to gain compliance and control.
- Mr. Blake actively resisted the officers’ attempt to gain compliance.
- The officers then disengaged and drew their tasers, issuing commands to Mr. Blake that he would be tased if he did not comply.
- Based on his non-compliance, one officer tased Mr. Blake. The taser did not incapacitate Mr. Blake.
- The officers once more went “hands-on” with Mr. Blake; again, trying to gain control of the escalating situation.
- Mr. Blake forcefully fought with the officers, including putting one of the officers in a headlock.
- A second taser (from a different officer than had deployed the initial taser) was then deployed on Mr. Blake. It did not appear to have any impact on him.
- Based on the inability to gain compliance and control after using verbal, physical and less-lethal means, the officers drew their firearms.
- Mr. Blake continued to ignore the officers’ commands, even with the threat of lethal force now present.
This article was written by Jackson Danbeck for WTMJ.