For all the complexities and mystery in the police shooting of Jamar Clark, there was one element that remained solid from the start: His fatal encounter with police had only begun because Clark had assaulted his girlfriend that night.
This fact was repeated in nearly every local and national news story about Clark, 24, who was shot by Minneapolis police officer Dustin Schwarze, after he tussled with Schwarze's partner, Mark Ringgenberg. The domestic violence aspect colored public response to the events, with many saying they couldn't muster sympathy for a guy who'd just put his girlfriend in the emergency room.
Clark's assault on Rayann Hayes, 41, was mentioned again earlier this week by Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, as he announced that no criminal charges would be filed against Schwarze and Ringgenberg for Clark's death.
But one central figure has questioned the police narrative that Clark assaulted his girlfriend: Rayann Hayes, his supposed victim.
Hayes spoke out in an exclusive interview to WCCO last night, telling her side of things while keeping her face shielded from the public. (She said she fears for her safety.)
Hayes says she and Clark were just friends, not dating, and told the TV station there was "no dispute, no domestic, none of that" on the night he was shot. You can watch her interview below.
Why is Hayes changing her story now? She isn't. Back in February, in an interview with investigators from the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, Hayes disputed the narrative that Clark had broken her ankle during a fight they'd had.
One investigator, perhaps trying to make conversation, asks Hayes how her ankle is. She responds with a tangent about her frustration with the story that Clark was responsible for her injury.
Later in the same interview, she also denied that she was "romantically involved" with Clark.
As it turns out, she's not the only one with this version of the story. Police interviews with people present at the 1611 Plymouth Ave. apartment complex in north Minneapolis tell the story of a friendly birthday party, with drinking and cards played, that went sour when two partygoers, one male and one female, began to argue.
According to witnesses, Rayann Hayes tried to intervene in that dispute, at which point Jamar Clark tried to stop her from getting involved. Hayes then turned on Clark, and the two tussled, during which time both of them suffered injuries.
Here's how Jamar Clark's sister described it.
Clark's sister might be inclined to defend his honor. But other witnesses told similar versions. Here's the host from that night, the woman whose altercation with her husband had triggered the fight between Hayes and Clark.
And another, from a guy who'd been at the party, but left before things got ugly.
Covering up for a man who had been killed by police? Trying to save Clark's reputation? Perhaps.
But even that night, in her initial conversation with a 911 operator, Hayes wasn't blaming Clark. She said her case was not an emergency, and that it had been a full hour since it happened.
"There was an altercation with someone, downstairs in the building, and I tried to break it up. And in the process of it, I think my leg sprained, I can't move."
The origin of the detail that Clark had beaten up his girlfriend seems to stem from Hayes' original interview with an investigator. This interview was done in the "early morning hours" at the North Memorial Medical Center, where she was being treated for her ankle injury.
Hayes, who admitted to the officer she'd been drinking and smoking marijuana the night before, tells a story that seems to weave back and forth, sometimes blaming Clark more than others.
In the same interview, Hayes denies that she was the one who called 911; though, it's clear from the 911 call that the woman who called was using the first-person when describing an injury to her ankle, sustained while breaking up a fight.
Hayes also says Clark was not armed that night, and says he never carried a gun.
Hayes told WCCO that she recalls the moment Clark came to the rear window of her ambulance. Paramedics took this as a threat: Clark, perceived as Hayes' boyfriend, trying to break back in and injure the same woman he'd attacked earlier that night.
Hayes saw it differently.
"I remember that," Hayes said. "I remember the ambulance guys saying, 'Oh, he's trying to break in.' I'm like, 'No, he's trying to help me.'"
The details of just what went down are still fuzzy, and will likely remain that way. But for TV cameras, now, and state investigators back in February, Hayes has tried to fight against the notion that the first thing that happened that night was an act of domestic violence.
If the story she tells now is true, and she wasn't a victim of assault, then the first offense Jamar Clark committed on November 15 was resisting arrest for a crime he didn't commit.