By KARMA ALLEN, ABC News
(KENOSHA, Wis.) — Jacob Blake captured the attention of civil rights advocates around the world last week as cellphone video circulated of the 29-year-old man being shot seven times in the back by Wisconsin police in front of his children.
Blake’s family said the shooting left him paralyzed from the waist down and doctors fear he may never walk again, adding to public outrage that had already caused days of civil unrest within his hometown of Kenosha, Wisconsin.
Several competing narratives have emerged in the wake of the shooting, including official accounts of the incident issued by Kenosha police and the Wisconsin Department of Justice, the agency charged with investigating the shooting.
The Kenosha Professional Police Association claims Blake was armed with a knife and “forcefully fought” with the officers who tried to subdue him.
But those closest to Blake, including his parents, say Blake is a loving and devoted father who did not deserve what happened to him.
Three of his children — ages 8, 5 and 3 — witnessed the incident and were “absolutely devastated” in the wake of the shooting, Blake’s attorney, Ben Crump, said. The oldest boy was celebrating his birthday when his father was shot, Crump said.
What investigators say occurred
The shooting occurred just after 5 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 23, when Kenosha police officers responded to a reported domestic incident after a woman called saying, “Her boyfriend was present and was not supposed to be on the premises,” according to the Wisconsin Department of Justice Division of Criminal Investigation. The woman has not been identified.
A dispatcher named Blake in a police call, saying he had taken the complainant’s keys and refused to leave. The dispatcher said Blake “isn’t supposed to be there” and that she couldn’t get more details because the complainant was “uncooperative,” according to the agency, which is investigating the shooting.
Once on the scene, officers said they tried to arrest Blake and deployed a Taser in an unsuccessful attempt to detain him, the department said. Investigators said Blake walked to his vehicle, “opened the driver’s side door, and leaned forward,” before Kenosha Officer Rusten Sheskey fired seven shots into Blake’s back, according to the agency.
No other officer fired their weapon. Investigators have not explained why officers moved to arrest Blake or why Sheskey fired so many times.
The agency said Blake told authorities that he had a knife in his possession. Investigators later recovered a knife from the driver’s side floorboard of Blake’s vehicle. The Wisconsin DOJ has not said whether Blake was holding that knife during his interaction with police.
All of the officers involved in the incident have been placed on administrative leave.
A 20-second video of Blake’s shooting, filmed by a bystander, has been viewed millions of times on social media. The video appeared to show three officers with their weapons drawn following Blake as he walked from the back of a vehicle to the driver’s side. As Blake entered the driver’s side of the car, Sheskey, who was hanging onto Blake’s shirt, opened fire.
Fiancé offers different account of shooting
Milwaukee ABC affiliate WISN-TV spoke to Blake’s fiancé, Laquisha Booker, who said two of their kids were sitting in the back of the car when Blake was shot by police. She claimed the officers threatened to shoot her as well.
“They didn’t even know the kids were in the car, and I’m telling the woman cop, ‘Can you please?’ She said, ‘Get back before I shoot you,’ I’m like, ‘Shoot me? My kids are in the car,"” Brooks said.
Referring to Blake’s being shot, Brooks added, “It wasn’t just one shot — ‘Let me just put you down for a little bit.’ That man just literally grabbed him by his shirt and looked the other [expletive] way and was just shooting him with the kids in the back screaming. Screaming! While I’m trying to fight this woman cop, saying, ‘Let me get my kids out the car.’ Her telling me no, they’re handling it.”
Booker told WISN she never called police and wasn’t sure why they were there. She said her fiancé wasn’t armed and didn’t own any guns or weapons.
“It doesn’t make sense to treat someone like that,” Booker told WISN.
Civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who often takes on prominent cases and is representing the family, said Blake was helping to de-escalate a domestic incident when police drew their weapons and Tasered him. As Blake was walking away to check on his kids, the officers fired their weapons several times into his back at point blank range, according to Crump.
“We all watched the horrific video of Jacob Blake being shot in the back several times by Kenosha police. Even worse, his three sons witnessed their father collapse after being riddled with bullets,” Crump said in a statement immediately after the shooting. “Their irresponsible, reckless, and inhumane actions nearly cost the life of a man who was simply trying to do the right thing by intervening in a domestic incident. It’s a miracle he’s still alive.”
Crump said he believes Blake was racially profiled and nearly killed because he is Black.
“We will seek justice for Jacob Blake and for his family as we demand answers from the Kenosha Police Department,” he added. “How many more of these tragic ‘while Black’ tragedies will it take until the racial profiling and undervaluing of Black lives by the police finally stops?”
A ‘fun-loving’ family man who adores his boys
Blake’s uncle, Justin Blake, described his nephew as a “fighter” who was “fun-loving” and deeply in love with his young boys. He said his nephew had been comforting family members, telling them things were going to be okay, even as he fought for his life.
“Little Jake’s been through a lot. He’s in a lot of pain,” Justin Blake told ABC News’ Good Morning America. “His children are surrounded by family, we give them love showering them with love, and just trying to help them through this experience that was just brutal.”
He said his nephew recently underwent surgery and was doing better, but he isn’t “out of the woods yet.”
His children have not been allowed to visit him yet, according to the family.
“You can only imagine the psychological problems that these babies are going to have for the rest of their lives,” Crump said in an interview with Good Morning America on Tuesday. “They’ll go through life and they’ll think of this horrific scene that plays over and over in their mind.”
“And this was the 8-year-old son’s birthday. It will be very difficult for him to not remember this tragedy every time his birthday comes around,” he added.
Blake’s mother, Julia Jackson, said she raised her children and grandchildren to love and respect police officers, but now she fears they might grow to resent them.
“I can pray for my grandchildren as well as my children, but it puts a stumbling block in the process of trying to make sure they grow up without that hatred and that image,” Jackson said in an interview with GMA.
About two weeks before the shooting, she said she introduced her 14-year-old grandson to a high-ranking police officer she admired in an effort to show him that some police officers are good people.
“We talked for a few minutes and my grandson was very impressed, we had a conversation. You need to know that not all police officers are bad. There’s some good ones out there. Then a week or two later this happens to us all — what do I say to him now?” Jackson said.
Teary-eyed, Jackson also revealed that she had gone to visit her son at the Froedtert Hospital in Wauwatosa, just west of Milwaukee. When she arrived, the first thing he did was cry and tell her, “I’m sorry about all this.”
“I asked him, ‘Jacob, did you shoot yourself in the back?’ He looked at me and he said, ‘No.’ I said, ‘Then why are you sorry?’ He says, ‘Because I don’t want to be a burden on anybody. I want to be with my children and I don’t think I’m going to walk again, Mom,"” she said.
But even through his tears, he maintained his loving and compassionate demeanor, she said. When it came time for them to pray, she said her son stopped her and asked if the police officer in the room could join them.
“The three of us prayed together,” she said.
Police union claims Blake ‘forcefully fought’ officers
The Kenosha Professional Police Association released a statement Friday, disputing some of the statements by the Wisconsin DOJ. It claimed Blake was armed with a knife and “forcefully fought” with the officers who tried to subdue him.
In this statement, attorney Brendan Matthews, representing the police union, says that officers were dispatched to the location by a complaint that Blake was attempting to steal the caller’s keys and vehicle.
Wisconsin DOJ has previously said that officers were dispatched due to a call from a woman saying her boyfriend was not supposed to be on the premises.
There is an open warrant for Blake’s arrest on sexual charges, although it has not been made public against whom. Matthews said officers were aware of the warrant before they arrived at the location. They said Blake was not breaking up a fight between two females as neighbors and family have said.
Matthews contends the silver SUV seen in the video is not Blake’s car and that Blake was actually holding the knife in the video where he rounds the front of the car. He said Blake put one of the officers in a headlock at one point during an altercation.
“The purely fictional depiction of events coming from those without direct knowledge of what actually occurred is incredibly harmful, and provides no benefit to anyone whatsoever, other than to perpetuate a misleading narrative,” Matthews said. “The lawyers for Mr. Blake, among others, have continued to provide false and misleading ‘facts’ to the public, in what can only be considered a ploy for attention and sympathy.”
“Unfortunately, even the incident update from the Wisconsin Department of Justice, Division of Criminal Investigation (‘DCI’) — the agency charged with investigating the incident independently — is riddled with incomplete information, and omits important details that would help to paint a more complete picture of the incident,” he added.
Family, activists call for justice
A large crowd of protesters flocked to the scene immediately after the shooting, prompting local authorities to impose the citywide curfew. Officers were seen using tear gas on protesters who had gathered outside the Kenosha Police Department.
Police said they have received “numerous” calls in the wake of protests about armed robberies and shots fired in the city.
A day after the shooting, authorities announced the Kenosha County Courthouse and administration building will be closed for a day due to damage sustained during the previous night’s civil unrest.
Kenosha city officials held a press conference Monday evening to update residents on the investigation, but its location had to be changed multiple times as protesters shouted in the background. The press conference was originally scheduled to be outside, but it was moved inside. Banging and shouting from protesters could still be heard, so it was then moved a third time, into an interior room.
At Tuesday’s protest, two people were killed and a third was seriously wounded in a shooting when a counter-protester, 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse from Antioch, Illinois, allegedly opened fire, police said. He was charged with two counts of homicide, one count of attempted homicide, two counts of recklessly endangering safety and one count of possession of a dangerous weapon.
Lin Wood, one of Rittenhouse’s attorneys, said his client was acting in self-defense.
“From my standpoint, it’s important that the message be clear to other Americans who are attacked that there will be legal resources available in the event false charges are brought against them,” he said.
Rittenhouse’s extradition hearing is set for Sept. 25.
The American Civil Liberties Union called for the immediate resignation of Kenosha Police Chief Daniel Miskinis and Kenosha County Sheriff David Beth in the wake of the civil unrest.
The ACLU claimed that Beth’s deputies had “fraternized with white supremacist counter-protesters” and “allowed the shooter to leave as people yelled that he was the shooter.” The ACLU further alleges that Miskinis “blamed the unidentified victims in Tuesday night’s shooting for their own deaths.”
“The ACLU strongly condemns Sheriff Beth and Police Chief Miskinis’ response to both the attempted murder of Jacob Blake and the protests demanding justice for him,” said Chris Ott, executive director of the ACLU of Wisconsin. “Their actions uphold and defend white supremacy, while demonizing people who were murdered for exercising their First Amendment rights and speaking out against police violence.”
Separately, Blake’s family has also called for charges against the officers involved.
“We believe based on the evidence, based on that video, probable cause exists to arrest and charge the officers with attempt at murder,” Crump told GMA earlier this week. “It should be no different than what happened at George Floyd’s case – when you see such a lack of humanity and respect for the people that you’re in charge of to protect and serve, why shouldn’t you be held accountable? You shouldn’t be above the law. That’s the reason I think now we continue to have so many tragedies happening over and over again, as quick as we can keep up where there’s another hashtag.”
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