The Wisconsin police officer involved in the shooting of Jacob Blake last year, igniting several days of unrest that included two fatal shootings, will not face criminal charges, prosecutors said Tuesday.
The officer who fired, Rusten Sheskey, 31, and the other officers will not be charged, Kenosha County District Attorney Michael Graveley said during a news conference. He said the decision was based on evidence that was not captured on widely shared cellphone footage of the Aug. 23 shooting.
"It’s a narrow task today, it’s a legal and professional task," Graveley said. "Everybody has seen the video and so from their perspective, they have tried this case at their computer screen or from their living room."
Graveley said Blake, 29, was armed with a knife that was not visible in the video footage and admitted to having one during the incident. Statements that he was unarmed contradict what Blake, who had an active felony warrant for his arrest at the time of the shooting, told authorities, he said.
"He even tells us at different times he had the knife in different hands," Graveley said. "So he arms himself with a knife and refuses to drop that knife."
Investigators found a knife on the floorboard of Blake's vehicle. Graveley also announced that Blake will not face charges.
Sheskey, who is White, shot Blake while responding to a domestic disturbance. A woman had called 911 saying Blake refused to return keys to a rental car. Video footage of the incident captured Blake walking away from the officer and around a vehicle with his children inside, then he is shot seven times.
Four bullets struck Blake in the back and three hit his left side, Graveley said.
At one point, officers attempted to use a Taser to stop him. Sheskey told investigators that he opened fire because he was afraid Blake was trying to harm the children inside the vehicle.
Graveley also declined to charge the two officers at the scene, Brittany Meronek and Vincent Arenas. The shooting left Blake paralyzed and sparked protests that devolved into riots over several nights. The unrest included two fatal shootings, arson and the destruction of property.
The head of the union that represents Kenosha police officers rebuked elected officials for "fanning the flames of civil unrest and pitting people against the police" and said the situation could have been avoided had Blake complied with the officers' orders.
"At any time during his interaction with the officers, Mr. Blake could have and should have complied with their lawful orders," Pete Deates, president of the Kenosha Professional Police Association, said in a statement. "If he had, nobody, including the entire Kenosha community would have had to endure the pain and suffering that ensued."
In the days after the shooting, several elected officials and prominent political figures -- including then-presidential candidate Joe Biden and Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat--made reference to the police shootings of Black people across the country.
Jacob Blake Sr. said he was not surprised by Tuesday's announcement.
"We must abolish the right for policemen to be seen on a higher plane than citizens of the United States," he said from Chicago while surrounded by supporters, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson. "You cannot have a Bill of Rights for the police and then have a Bill of Rights for the people."
Evers said Tuesday's announcement was "further evidence that our work is not done—we must work each day in earnest toward a more just, more fair, and more equitable state and country, and to combat the racism experienced by Black Wisconsinites."
In a statement, Blake family attorney Ben Crump and co-counsels Patrick A. Salvi II and B'Ivory LaMarr, said the decision "further destroys trust in the justice system."
"We feel this decision not only failed Jacob and his family, but the community that protested and demanded justice," Crump said. "This sends the wrong message to police officers throughout the country. It says it's OK for police to abuse their power and recklessly shoot their weapon, destroying the life of someone who was trying to protect his children."
In a news conference, Blake's uncle, Justin Blake, urged people to take to the streets in the same way many did in the days following the shooting.
"It's not time to be cute. It's time to put on some working boots and get in this game," he said. "Stand up around this nation and let's let them know we're not going to tolerate this anymore. Martin Luther King [Jr.] went to jail. John Lewis went to jail for us. Don't be scared to go to jail."
The shooting sparked several nights of riots amid a summer of massive nationwide demonstrations over police shootings and misconduct. On Aug. 25, two men -- Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber -- were fatally shot by Kyle Rittenhouse, 17, during a third night of unrest in Kenosha.
Rittenhouse, an Illinois resident, also wounded a third man -- Gaige Grosskreutz -- with an AR-15 style rifle, authorities said. He pleaded not guilty to charges against him -- including homicide -- on Tuesday. His lawyers have said the teenager acted in self-defense.
On Sunday, lawyers for Grosskreutz and Huber's family said they are seeking $10 million apiece in damages from the city and county of Kenosha, the Kenosha County Sheriff’s Department, Police Chief Daniel Miskinis, Sheriff David Beth, and as-yet unknown employees or former employees.
In anticipation of Tuesday's decision, authorities in Kenosha took extra precautions to prevent a second wave of potential unrest. Evers mobilized the National Guard on Monday to assist local and state authorities.
In addition, barriers and fencing were erected in some areas of the city. City leaders also approved an emergency declaration that included road closures and a curfew.
Graveley said he spoke with Blake over the phone before his announcement. He said Blake is still "on a daily basis suffering the injuries" he sustained and is still working on his recovery.