The Department of Justice announced Friday that it will not pursue federal criminal civil rights charges over the shooting of Jacob Blake, a 30-year-old Black man who was shot in the back multiple times by a police officer in Wisconsin in August 2020. The department said there is not enough evidence to prove that the officer who shot Blake “willfully” violated his civil rights, which is the required standard for pressing charges.
The shooting occurred after police received a call about a domestic disturbance on August 23, 2020. Graphic bystander video of the encounter showed Blake walking away from police, before Kenosha police officer Rusten Sheskey grabbed his shirt as he opened the driver’s side door of a parked SUV. Sheskey then shot Blake multiple times in the back.
Blake, who was 29 at the time, survived the shooting. But at least one bullet tore through his spinal cord,, his attorneys said days later.
Kenosha County District Attorney Michael Graveleyin January 2021, saying he didn’t think prosecutors could successfully argue that Sheskey didn’t think he was firing at Blake to protect himself or others. Sheskey returned to duty this spring.
Graveley said Blake was carrying a knife, and said he twisted his body toward Sheskey right before he opened fire. In the days following the shooting, the Wisconsin Department of Justice said investigators recovered a knife from the driver’s side floorboard of the car, and said Blake “admitted that he had a knife in his possession.” But his family said he did not pose any threat to the police.
“Mr. Blake made no physical or verbal threats toward any officer and repeatedly attempted to disengage by walking away from a violent attack from aggressive police officers,” family attorney Benjamin Crump said in a March statement announcing a civil lawsuit against Sheskey. Crump said Blake had a folding knife “on his person,” but said “he never brandished or threatened to use the knife at any time.”
“After Mr. Blake dropped the folding knife onto the floor of the SUV and as he sat down in the driver’s seat, Officer Sheskey began firing his gun with one hand, as he pulled Jacob by the shirt with the other,” Crump said.
The DOJ said in a statement that after a “careful and thorough review,” prosecutors determined that there was not enough evidence “to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the KPD officer willfully violated the federal criminal civil rights statutes.”
The department noted that the standard in these cases is quite high, and that “neither accident, mistake, fear, negligence, nor bad judgment is sufficient to establish a willful federal criminal civil rights violation.” The department did not provide specifics about the evidence considered in the investigation.
Crump did not immediately respond to CBS News’ request for comment on the Justice Department’s decision.
Erin Donaghue contributed reporting.