MINNEAPOLIS – A prosecutor's decision not to charge two white Minneapolis police officers in the shooting death of a 24-year-old black man isn't the last word in the case. The officers still face a federal civil rights investigation, and Jamar Clark's family members could sue. Meanwhile, at least one activist is seeking elected office. Some details about what's next:
THE FATAL CONFRONTATION
Clark, 24, was shot Nov. 15 and died a day later. After a four-month investigation, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman announced Wednesday that officers Mark Ringgenberg and Dustin Schwarze would not face state criminal charges. He said forensic evidence backed their accounts that Clark was not handcuffed — as alleged by some witnesses — and that he had his hand on an officer's gun when he was shot. Freeman said the officers feared for their lives and deadly force was reasonable.
Freeman made the decision on his own instead of presenting the case to a grand jury. He also released more than 1,000 pages of evidence.
The state criminal investigation is over, but the FBI, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Minnesota and the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division are still conducting a federal criminal investigation to determine whether police intentionally violated Clark's civil rights through excessive force. That's a high legal standard because an accident, bad judgment or simple negligence on the officer's part is not enough to bring federal charges.
In addition, the officers could be disciplined. Once the federal investigation is complete, the police department will conduct an internal review, said police spokesman Scott Seroka. For now, the officers are on non-patrol duties. It's unclear when they will return to the street.
The Justice Department is also reviewing how the city responded to protests after Clark's death. His shooting prompted numerous demonstrations, including an 18-day occupation outside a police precinct.
OTHER LEGAL MATTERS
Clark's relatives have hired attorneys, and lawsuits against the city and police officers are possible. Attorney Albert Goins, who represents two of Clark's biological sisters and other siblings, said he's just started reviewing the evidence Freeman released and needs to gather more information before deciding on a lawsuit. Clark's adoptive parents, James and Wilma Clark, have also retained an attorney.
PROTESTS AND POLICY
Activists who were dismayed by Freeman's decision believe their protests have raised awareness about racial inequities and engaged more people in seeking change.
Mel Reeves, an organizer for the Twin Cities Coalition 4 Justice 4 Jamar Clark, said his group is planning another protest Friday at the Hennepin County Government Center to call for prosecution of the officers. Even though that decision's been made, Reeves said, "nothing is impossible ... If people do decide to get off their couches and out of their apathy and decide to take part in whatever protests, it's quite possible the system can change."
Mica Grimm, an organizer with Black Lives Matter Minneapolis, said the community is moving toward less action and more policy work. She said there's an ongoing effort to recruit candidates who will address economic injustice, seek criminal justice reform and improve education. Clark's death, she said, showed that injustices can happen anywhere.
"This has been going on for so long that I think people are really fed up at this point, and they want to see something happen, something change," she said.
At least one activist is seeking office herself. Raeisha Williams, the spokeswoman for the Minneapolis chapter of the NAACP, is a candidate for the Minneapolis City Council seat that represents the north side, where Clark was killed. Williams said she decided to run in 2014, but the importance of her campaign did not hit her until Clark's death.
"We know that this is just the beginning," she said.
Nekima Levy-Pounds, president of the Minneapolis NAACP, said she's been approached about challenging Freeman for county attorney. She said she's not personally interested in that office, but would not take the idea off the table if no other candidates emerge.
"We don't need career politicians continuing to hold these seats in City Hall," she said. "We need fresh blood. We need people who understand the core of what the Black Lives Matter movement is all about and are willing to fight for what is right, even at times when it's unpopular."
Follow Amy Forliti on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/amyforliti. More of her work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/amy-forliti .