MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Federal officials in Minneapolis will announce Wednesday whether they believe the civil rights of a 24-year-old black man were violated last November in a confrontation with two police officers that led to his death.
An officer shot Jamar Clark Nov. 15, and he died a day later. His death sparked weeks of largely peaceful protests and an 18-day occupation outside a north side police precinct.
A key issue was whether Clark was handcuffed at the time of the shooting. Several witnesses said he was; police said he was not.
The confrontation that led to Clark’s death began when paramedics called police saying he was interfering with their efforts to treat an assault victim. Officers Mark Ringgenberg and Dustin Schwarze responded.
According to an investigation by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, Clark refused orders to take his hands out of his pockets. The officers tried to handcuff him but failed. Ringgenberg wrestled Clark to the ground but wound up on his back atop Clark and felt Clark’s hand on his weapon, according to the investigation.
Schwarze then shot Clark in an encounter that lasted barely more than a minute from the time the officers first arrived.
In March, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman declined to file criminal charges against the officers. He cited forensic evidence in the BCA investigation that found no bruising of Clark’s wrists that handcuffs would likely have caused and found Clark’s DNA on Ringgenberg’s gun. Freeman also cited conflicting accounts by witnesses about whether Clark was cuffed.
Mayor Betsy Hodges requested the civil rights investigation, conducted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Minnesota and the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. They will determine whether the officers intentionally violated Clark’s civil rights through excessive force. That’s a high legal standard because an accident, bad judgment or simple negligence is not enough to bring federal charges.
An internal police investigation is expected once the results of the federal investigation are released.
The DOJ is also reviewing how the city responded to the protests that followed Clark’s death. Though those protests were largely peaceful, one demonstration outside the 4th Precinct soon after the shooting included some skirmishes between officers and protesters. At least one federal lawsuit has been filed accusing officers of excessive force during a Nov. 18 demonstration.
Five demonstrators were also shot and lightly wounded near the 4th Precinct Nov. 23 in what a county prosecutor said was a racially motivated attack. Four men — three white, one Asian — were charged.
The Clark shooting spurred state lawmakers to examine longstanding complaints of racial inequities, particularly on the impoverished north side. Advocates requested more investment in minority-owned businesses and a summer job program for black teens, and lawmakers this spring set aside $35 million.
Community groups said authorities have barred them from attending the news conference planned for Wednesday. Nekima Levy-Pounds said it’s unacceptable that government leaders would exclude those who have been working for justice for Clark. U.S. Department of Justice spokesman Ben Petok said community groups have been invited to a meeting at federal offices Wednesday afternoon and that the news conference is for accredited members of the media only.
Associated Press writer Doug Glass contributed to this report.
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