The encounter that ended with the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Wisconsin last summer began with a “family trouble” call to 911 from the mother of his children.
Laquisha Booker had made such calls before, according to an investigative report by Kenosha County District Attorney Michael Graveley, who on Tuesday outlined a review of more than 40 hours of video and hundreds of documents in an effort to determine what happened the day of the shooting.
Booker’s emergency call at 5:10 p.m. on August 23 concluded with Rusten Sheskey, a White Kenosha Police officer, shooting Blake, a 29-year-old Black man who was left paralyzed from the waist down.
The confrontation, caught on video, became part of a long summer of unrest and racial reckoning in America ignited in part by the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers.
The district attorney said he hoped the Blake shooting leads to a “complicated conversation” that permits “all points of views and allows for all the parties – even those that feel so disenfranchised – to have a voice.”
But criminal charges against Sheskey would be hard to prove, according to Graveley. It would be difficult to convince a jury the officer did not “reasonably believe that the shooting at Jacob Blake was necessary to prevent being stabbed … or necessary to prevent someone else from being in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm.”
“This case is really all about self-defense and can it be proven that it does not exist,” he said.
That Sheskey and two other officers were on a domestic disturbance call was “urgently important,” Graveley wrote in the report.
“They knew they were responding to a domestic disturbance and they knew the man who was the subject of the call, Jacob Blake, had a warrant for his arrest from a prior incident where he was charged with domestic violence offenses and a sexual assault. Every decision the officers made during this incident, in response to this call, must be interpreted in light of those facts.”
Blake’s attorneys maintain their client did not pose a threat to police and the decision to not charge the officer fueled the community’s longstanding distrust of the justice system.
Mother of Blake’s children said she feared he would crash her vehicle
Graveley’s investigative report and comments he made Tuesday provided the most detailed account of events leading up to the shooting.
On the 911 call, Booker told a dispatcher that Blake had taken the keys to an SUV she had rented. She feared he would crash it.
Blake, she told the dispatcher, was “not supposed to be here. Today is his son’s birthday, so I allowed him to spend a couple hours with him, but he’s not giving me the keys to this rental. And that’s all I’m asking for.”
“Is Jacob there right now?” the dispatcher asked.
“Yes and he is trying to kiss his kids, so he can hurry up and leave. He was here talking all types of crazy and now he’s walking off now. Now he’s getting ready to leave.”
She provided the plate number and repeated that Blake was kissing his children.
“He’s is pulling off right now,” she said.
Officer says Blake ripped off Taser wires
The primary officers who responded to the call were Sheskey and Brittany Meronek, who arrived in a marked Kenosha Police Department SUV. Another officer, Vincent Arenas, was the backup. The police department did not provide its officers with body cameras at the time of the shooting.
On a computer screen in their squad cars, the officers learned the complainant said Blake was not supposed to be at the home and had taken the keys to her rented Dodge SUV. They also learned Blake had a felony warrant for domestic violence, disorderly conduct and a felony sexual assault.
Sheskey told investigators that, as he approached a man on the street, a woman screamed: “It’s him! It’s him! He has my keys! It’s my car! It’s registered to me!”
“I’m taking the kid and I am taking the car,” the officer recalled the man saying.
“Let’s talk about this,” the officer told the man, according to the investigative report.
Sheskey said he saw the man place a child in the back seat. He told investigators he was confident the man was Blake. Sheskey said he grabbed the man’s arm to arrest him and mentioned the warrant.
Blake reached for his “waistline area” at one point, according to Sheskey, who said he believed the man was going for a weapon. Sheskey discharged his Taser but Blake broke the wires with his hand.
Sheskey said he then placed the Taser’s metal ends in the area of Blake’s neck and back – a technique known as “drive stun” intended to cause pain but not incapacitate – but the suspect again slipped away. When Sheskey tried to take Blake down, both men fell to the ground. They got back up and Blake moved to the front of the SUV.
“Stop resisting!” Sheskey said he told Blake numerous times. He said he also made numerous other verbal commands.
“He has a knife! Knife! Knife!” the officer – who had not seen the weapon at that point – said he heard someone say. Sheskey said he pulled out his gun.
‘I ain’t going to pull no knife on no damn cop’
Blake told investigators from his hospital bed that he put his children in the back of the SUV after an argument with their mother. Booker had rented the SUV for him to use while his car was in a repair shop. He said he had a knife and believed the blade was still enclosed, but dropped it to the ground when he was first grabbed by Sheskey.
“Why would I pull a knife on a cop?” said Blake, who spoke with investigators days after the shooting and then again in September. “What am I? A knife thrower? I ain’t going to pull no knife on no damn cop.”
He added, “That’s just stupid. I just didn’t want to…I just grabbed it, man, honestly.”
Blake told investigators that he later picked up the knife after dropping it during the tussle with the officer.
Blake said he wanted to “drop” the knife in the car and did not intend to use it. He was thinking: “Get in the truck or they are going to kill you,” according to his statement. He said he opened the driver’s side door to put the knife in the center console when he felt his shirt being pulled.
Blake said “he did not point the knife at anyone; he did not swing the knife at anyone; he did not make any forward motion towards anyone with the knife; and he did not raise the knife towards anyone,” according to the report. “Jacob Blake stated that he did not hold the knife in a way which could be interpreted as being pointed towards anyone, especially the officer.”
He believed he was trying to get rid of the knife when he was shot, according to Blake’s statement.
Sheskey says he ‘feared Blake was going to stab him’
Sheskey told investigators he first saw the knife as Blake moved across the front of the SUV. He ordered him to drop it. Blake then headed for the driver’s side door.
“I don’t know what he is going to do,” Sheskey recalled thinking to himself at the time, according to his account to investigators.
“Is he going to hurt the kid? Is he going to take off in the vehicle? Will we have to pursue the vehicle with a child inside of the car? Is he going to hold the child hostage? Are his actions going to put others at risk?”
As Blake tried to get in the SUV, Sheskey said he grabbed and pulled the man’s shirt. Sheskey told investigators that Blake then “turned his torso right to left” toward the officer. The knife was now in Blake’s right hand, moving toward the officer’s torso, Sheskey told investigators. The officer said he fired his weapon and did not stop until he saw Blake drop the knife in the SUV’s floorboard.
Sheskey said he “feared Jacob Blake was going to stab him with the knife, but knew that he could not retreat because the child was in the car and could be harmed, taken hostage, or abducted by Jacob Blake,” according to the investigative report.
“Step it up. Shots fired. Shots fired,” Meronek yelled into her radio. Officers laid Blake on the ground and provided medical assistance, she said.
Witness captures part of confrontation on cell phone video
In a second-floor apartment across the street, a witness, identified in the investigative report as RW, captured part of the encounter on cell phone video. The witness told investigators that officers had Blake in a headlock and were punching him at one point. He said Blake did not go down when one officer Tased him.
In the video, Blake walked around the front of the SUV with a knife in his hand. The officers had their guns drawn. A male voice is heard yelling, “Drop the knife!” as Blake approached the door.
Moments later, seven shots are heard after Sheskey grabbed Blake’s shirt.
Attorney for Blake’s family disputes that he posed a threat
Blake had four entrance wounds to the back, and three to his left side.
“They didn’t have to shoot me like that,” he said. “I was just trying to leave and he had options to shoot my tires and even punch me, Tase me again, hit me with the night stick. I work armed security and I have gotten into it with cats that are bigger than me and my first thing is, I grab my Taser first and then my baton.”
Asked by an investigator why he didn’t surrender, Blake said, “Because he instantly grabbed my hand and he was trying to put me in handcuffs and I am just like not in front of my kids, not on my kid’s birthday.”
Graveley said Blake had been named in five reports of domestic disturbances involving Booker dating to 2012. Four disputes involved vehicles. The warrant for Blake was issued last summer on criminal trespass, domestic abuse, third-degree sexual assault and other charges in a case involving the mother of his children.
On May 3, Booker told police that Blake had broken into her home, sexually assaulted her and stolen her car keys and her vehicle and her debit card. Prosecutors were unable to locate her before trial in November, according to the investigative report.
Blake pleaded guilty to two counts of disorderly conduct and domestic abuse while the third-degree sexual assault charge was dismissed, according to Kenosha County court records. A judge ordered Blake’s sentence withheld and he was placed on probation for two years.
Blake told investigators after the shooting that Booker “made up the whole thing” about the sex assault.
Investigators have not been able to speak with Booker since the day of the shooting, according to the investigative report.
The officers involved in the August call remain on administrative leave, police said.
An attorney for Blake’s family disputed that he posed a threat that day.
“There was no point in the video that is articulable for an officer to say that he was under harm at that particular point. I think that’s completely bogus and I think that is just a rationalization to try to show what is really, essentially, an intentional act,” attorney B’Ivory LaMarr told reporters shortly after Graveley’s announcement on Tuesday.
“It’s not against the law to have a knife, people have knives for a variety of different reasons. Jacob Blake is privy to having a knife,” the attorney added.
Blake family attorney Ben Crump, along with LaMarr and co-counsel Patrick A. Salvi II, expressed disappointment in Graveley’s decision.
“We feel this decision failed not only Jacob and his family, but the community that protested and demanded justice,” the attorneys said in a statement.
“Officer Sheskey’s actions sparked outrage and advocacy throughout the country, but the District Attorney’s decision not to charge the officer who shot Jacob in the back multiple times, leaving him paralyzed, further destroys trust in our justice system. This sends the wrong message to police officers throughout the country.”
Federal authorities are conducting a civil rights investigation related to the shooting.
Police union lawyer says officers ‘did an outstanding job’
Pete Deates, president of the Kenosha Professional Police Association, said in a statement: “The facts from this incident are finally known. The officers attempted to take Mr. Blake into custody by giving him verbal commands, physically struggling with him AND deploying their Tasers.
“Mr. Blake was also armed. At any time during his interaction with the officers, Mr. Blake could have and should have complied with their lawful orders. If he had, nobody, including the entire Kenosha community would have had to endure the pain and suffering that ensued.”
Police association attorney Brendan Matthews, who represented Sheskey, said the officers “did an outstanding job under challenging circumstances.”
“Officer Sheskey was presented with a difficult and dangerous situation and he acted appropriately and in accordance with his training,” his statement added.
“The video remains difficult to view but that does not change what actually occurred. False and misleading narratives to the contrary need to stop. Kenosha can and will move forward from this. That process begins now.”
Graveley said he spoke briefly with Blake before announcing his decision.
“This was a tragedy first and foremost for Jacob Blake, who still suffers from grievous injuries. These are life lasting injuries,” he said.
The prosecutor recalled telling Blake he has thought often about the lasting impact that witnessing the shooting will have on the man’s children.
“This is a tragedy for those who love Jacob Blake,” he said.
“He is a father, a son and a nephew. And I want to acknowledge and say that I really feel like the Blake family and Mr. Blake himself have tried to be real, truly positive forces in … asking the community to have peaceful but real dialogue about change that I think is necessary in this community outlined by the issues exposed in this case.”