Kenosha County District Attorney Michael Graveley announced Tuesday that Rusten Sheskey, the police officer who shot and paralyzed Jacob Blake, will not face criminal charges. Blake’s shooting renewed protests against police brutality this summer and set off intense civil unrest in the Wisconsin city. According to Graveley, his decision not to charge Sheskey came down to his determination that the officer would be able to successfully argue self-defense in front of a jury. Sheskey remains on the force.
Graveley said officers were responding to a 911 domestic-violence call at the residence of Blake’s girlfriend. The officers were told Blake was wanted on a felony warrant and tried to arrest him, Graveley said, adding that Blake resisted arrest. Graveley said it was “incontrovertible” that Blake was armed with a “razor blade–type knife,” though at least one witness at the scene stated that they did not see Blake holding one when he was shot. In a widely distributed video of the shooting, Blake is seen opening the driver’s door of a vehicle, with his three young children sitting in the back, as Sheskey opens fire. Blake was shot seven times and paralyzed from the waist down.
The day before the announcement, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers authorized the mobilization of 500 National Guard troops in advance of potential unrest surrounding the decision. In a statement given after Graveley addressed the media, Blake’s attorney Ben Crump said that the DA’s decision not to charge Sheskey “further destroys trust in our justice system,” adding that “this sends the wrong message to police officers throughout the country. It says it is okay for police to abuse their power and recklessly shoot their weapon, destroying the life of someone who was trying to protect his children.”
The August shooting of Blake, a 29-year-old Black man, by a white officer brought new energy to the protests against police brutality and systemic racism that began after the police killing of George Floyd in May. It also brought counterprotesters to Kenosha, including 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse, who has been charged with first-degree intentional homicide, first-degree reckless homicide and attempted first-degree intentional reckless homicide for shooting three people at the protests. Earlier on Tuesday, Rittenhouse pleaded not guilty to all three charges.