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Hennepin County attorney: No charges in shooting of Jamar Clark

MINNEAPOLIS -- Two Minneapolis police officers will face no charges in the shooting death of Jamar Clark -- a decision that prompted an immediate outcry from activists, who said they didn't trust the way the case was handled and were livid over h...

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Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman announces that no charges will be filed in the death of Jamar Clark. (Pioneer Press: Scott Takushi)
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Two Minneapolis police officers will face no charges in the shooting death of Jamar Clark - a decision that prompted an immediate outcry from activists, who said they didn’t trust the way the case was handled and were livid over how the deadly encounter unfolded.

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman announced the decision Wednesday. He said the evidence in the case didn’t clear the “high bar” required to convict officers for using force in the line of duty.

Freeman said forensic evidence matched the officers’ accounts that Clark grabbed for one of their guns during a struggle, and didn’t support accounts from other witnesses that Clark was handcuffed when he was shot.

He faced sharp challenges from a group of activists in the room, who accused him of force-feeding a story that supported the police. The group was upset in particular when shown video of the officers confronting Clark, in which he was seemingly complacent before an officer violently pulled him to the ground.

“Your entire narrative today was to push the propaganda of the Minneapolis police department,” said Raesha Williams, communications chair of the Minneapolis NAACP. She added: “If the city burns, it’s on your hands.”

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Clark, a 24-year-old black man, was shot by officers Nov. 15 during a disturbance call. The Minneapolis police union said he was going for an officer’s gun during a scuffle, but some witnesses disputed that account, claiming he was shot while handcuffed. His death sparked widespread protests.

Before announcing his decision, Freeman walked through the evidence of the case.

Officer Mark Ringgenberg reported that he took Clark to the ground in an attempt to handcuff him. As they struggled on the ground, Clark grabbed the officer’s holstered gun, the officer told investigators. Ringgenberg told Officer Dustin Schwarze, “He’s got my gun,” Freeman said.

Schwarze then dropped his handcuffs to the ground and brought out his gun, Freeman said. He put his gun to side of Clark’s mouth and said, “Let go or I’ll shoot,” Freeman reported.

Both officers said they then heard Clark say, “I’m ready to die,” Freeman said.

The entire scene unfolded within 61 seconds of the officers’ arrival, Freeman said.

After Clark was taken from the scene by ambulance, the handcuffs were found on the ground. Clark’s blood was found on one side of the cuffs, Freeman said, corroborating the officers’ statements that Clark had not been handcuffed.

“Clark’s body, if he had had handcuffs on, would have shielded them from blood splatter,” Freeman said.

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The evidence does not support charges against the officers, Freeman said.

“Officer Schwarze’s actions were reasonable, given his observations and Ringgenberg’s plea,” Freeman said.

After Freeman’s announcement, activists and members of the crowd were livid, some accusing Freeman of presenting an unfair version of the incident or berating him for “not giving credence and credibility” to witness accounts.

Some asked Freeman if anyone other than the officers heard Clark say, “I’m ready to die,” to which he said no.

Nekima Levy-Pounds, president of the Minneapolis NAACP, said, “The bottom line is that we are leaving here with more questions than answers.”

Freeman told them that all videos and reports related to the case will be publicly released, allowing them to review the evidence for themselves.

Activists who had demanded charges against the officers are planning rallies for Wednesday night in the Twin Cities.

State Rep. Raymond Dehn, who represents Minneapolis, released a written statement saying he was “upset” with Freeman’s decision, but calling for peace and “positive actions” rather than violence.

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“We all know that the criminal justice system disproportionately negatively impacts communities of color, but now isn’t the time to weaken our message with violence,” Dehn said.

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