KENOSHA, Wis. — Days after a Kenosha police officer shot Jacob Blake outside an apartment building, the authorities on Friday provided new details on what led up to the videotaped encounter that has prompted heated street protests and calls for reform.
Law enforcement officials said that in recent days they had shackled Blake to his hospital bed, where he is paralyzed from the waist down from his wounds, because he faced an arrest warrant from July on charges of third-degree sexual assault, criminal trespass and disorderly conduct. The same woman who had filed that complaint had called 911 before the shooting on Sunday to report Blake’s presence to the police, according to interviews and records.
Some onlookers and Ben Crump, the civil rights lawyer who is representing Blake, have described Blake as a peacemaker who was seeking to break up a disturbance involving two women when the police arrived. On Friday afternoon in Wisconsin, near the spot where Officer Rusten Sheskey fired at Blake seven times, some of those who knew Blake said the authorities were attempting to justify a clear-cut instance of excessive force by tarnishing his reputation.
“They’re trying to reverse it and make it seem like he was such a criminal,” said Jesse Franklin, a community activist who described Blake as a laid-back father who spent considerable time with his three young children. “The whole point is, I don’t care if he’s a criminal or has a record. Your life matters, too. He’s not less of a man. He’s a human being with kids, with a family, with a heartbeat.”
At a news conference Friday, Chief Daniel Miskinis of the Kenosha Police Department said he believed that the officers knew of the outstanding warrant when they responded to the call about a domestic dispute.
The outstanding warrant, he said, would have brought a “heightened awareness” to the dynamic between the officers and Blake. “There was some resisting on the basis of that contact and the arrest, so that is what changed the dynamics,” he said.
The union representing Kenosha police officers issued a statement on the events that led up to the shooting, suggesting that Blake had strongly resisted arrest, fighting with officers, putting one in a headlock and ignoring orders to drop a knife that he held in his left hand.
“None of the officers involved wished for things to transpire the way it did,” Brendan Matthews, a lawyer representing the union, said. “It is my hope that truth and transparency will help begin and aid in the healing process.”
The shooting was troubling enough that Mayor John Antaramian of Kenosha said in an interview on Friday that it “was a situation that, I think, caught all of us a little off guard.” The Police Department “has had some very good rules in dealing with use of force,” he added, though he stopped short of saying whether he believed that the officers violated the use-of-force rules.
Protests have played out around the country in recent days, and more were planned over the weekend. On Friday, thousands of protesters gathered in Washington at the Lincoln Memorial for an event aimed at rekindling the spirit of the 1963 March on Washington in which Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech.
The family of Blake was among relatives of victims of police violence who spoke from a lectern at the base of the memorial.
“There are two systems of justice in the United States,” Blake’s father, Jacob Blake Sr., said. “There’s a white system and there’s a Black system. The Black system ain’t doing so well.”
“My plan is to march peacefully,” he said. “I would like the chief of police or somebody up high to come outside and explain to me, face to face, why it was OK for that police officer to put seven shots in my son’s back.”
Court documents filed in the July case against Jacob Blake show that the woman who filed the complaint said he had broken into her home while she was asleep and assaulted her. The woman told the police that Blake also took her car and debit card, the documents show.
Patrick Cafferty, who is representing Blake in that case, which includes a felony count and two misdemeanors, declined to discuss the charges, except to say that his client would be pleading not guilty.
Amid growing questions about Blake being shackled to his hospital bed, officials said Friday that the shackles were being removed. Cafferty said that he had discussions with the Kenosha district attorney, Michael Graveley, who agreed to vacate the arrest warrant. Law enforcement often uses restraints and police guards in hospital rooms when a patient is facing criminal charges.Crump issued a statement, which read, in part, “Fortunately, a man who is paralyzed and fighting for his life after being shot seven times in the back will no longer have to deal with the pain of having his ankles and wrist shackled and the traumatic stress of being under armed guard.”
That decision does not stop the criminal case against Blake from proceeding. “The merits of the case have not been addressed,” Cafferty said.
Family members of Blake declined to comment on the charges, which they said were irrelevant to the police shooting.
“The Blake family is exhausted,” said an uncle, Rick Blake, who described a large and diverse extended family. “We are teachers, we are lawyers, we are government officials, we are everyday working people.”
“We have a right to be angry,” he said. “We also have a right to call out for justice.”
In interviews with local media after the shooting, the woman who had accused Blake of assault was also critical. “You shot him numerous times, for no reason,” she said. “It didn’t take all that.”Blake, 29, is the father of six children, ages 3 to 12, and was working at an automotive facility, training to become a mechanic, his family said.
Before the shooting, his father said, he had enjoyed fishing and boating. Now, he has said from the hospital that he never wants to go outside again.
“He is scared right now, and he has every right to be scared,” the elder Blake said. “Wouldn’t you be?”
Before the police shot Blake, officers had twice tried to use a Taser on him, state officials said. Two officers — Sheskey and Vincent Arenas — had each discharged Tasers before Sheskey fired his gun at Blake. Both officers, as well as a third officer at the scene, Brittany Meronek, have been put on administrative leave.
Officials in Kenosha said they were bracing for the weekend, with hundreds of members of the Wisconsin National Guard deployed amid unrest that at times has grown violent, with two people killed in a chaotic confrontation this week between counterprotesters and protesters.