From the moment a skirmish with Minneapolis Police Officers Mark Ringgenberg and Dustin Schwarze left Jamar Clark dead in the street, the investigation into his shooting was cast in doubt. Jamar Clark supporters feared local law enforcement would fail to aggressively scrutinize two of its own officers. To offset that fear, Mayor Betsy Hodges asked the U.S. Department of Justice to open a separate civil rights investigation.
Wednesday morning, U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger announced that he would not press charges against the MPD officers. Luger expressed concerns that he could not convince a jury beyond a reasonable doubt that Clark’s civil rights were violated. The decision comes two months after Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman also declined to file criminal charges against Ringgenberg and Schwarze.
The constitutional right Luger considered in the Clark case was the Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable seizure and unreasonable physical force by police. To prove that the officers violated Clark's Fourth Amendment rights, Luger would have to find evidence that their use of force was objectively unreasonable under the circumstances, and that the officers specifically intended to commit a crime. It's an extremely high legal standard.
"A federal prosecutor may only bring federal charges when he or she believes the physical evidence establishes the defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt," Luger says. "In other words, in a case where the evidence is unclear, or highly contradictory, it would be unethical for a federal prosecutor simply to indict and allow a jury to figure the case out."<!—EndFragment—>
If there had been sufficient evidence that Clark was handcuffed at the time of his shooting as initial eyewitnesses claimed, the officers' use of force would have been unjustified, Luger said Wednesday. However, his investigation, like Freeman's, found that witness testimonies were wildly incongruent when it came to the details of Clark's arrest.
Some witnesses maintained he had been cuffed on one wrist, others said it was both; some witnesses said he was cuffed while standing, others maintained he was lying on the ground. A federal medical examiner reiterated the county coroner's report that the lack of bruising on Clark's wrists indicated he was not handcuffed.
Nekima Levy-Pounds of the Minneapolis NAACP fundamentally disagrees with Luger's opposition to simply handing the case over to a jury. She and other members of Black Lives Matter Minneapolis gathered outside the gates of the FBI building in Brooklyn Center for their own news conference immediately following Luger's.
"The questions that he raised are questions that a jury should have to grapple with," Levy-Pounds says. "We should not have government authorities able to usurp the power of the people. What is the point of having a jury make a decision if our government leaders are going to decide that matters of this magnitude are not going to go to a jury? How many African Americans are prosecuted on a regular basis, by the federal government ... where there's scant evidence, and they still go forward?"
Luger explained his reasoning to Clark's family in a private meeting prior to giving his statements to the media on Thursday. He took no questions from reporters. According to the U.S. Attorney's Office, Luger will meet privately with community leaders on Thursday and Friday.
Raeisha Williams, a city council candidate for the Fifth Ward, questioned who these "community leaders" are, saying no one from the NAACP nor Black Lives Matter was invited.
"So what groups are you bringing to the table, people you have in your pockets?" Williams says. "They cannot stand on the wrong side. They have to do the right thing. We are chasing everybody out of the community who is not for the community. We're calling everybody out today. Either stand on the right side or move out the way."
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