BROOKLYN CENTER, Minn. (WCCO/AP) – Federal officials announced Wednesday that there was insufficient evidence to pursue civil rights charges against the officers involved in the Jamar Clark shooting.
At a press conference at the FBI headquarters in Brooklyn Center, federal law enforcement agents said they will not file civil rights charges against Minneapolis officers Mark Ringgenberg and Dustin Schwarze.
Clark, 24, was shot in the head by Schwarze on Nov. 15 on Minneapolis' north side. His death a day later sparked weeks of protests and an 18-day occupation outside the city's 4th Precinct police station.
Since the day of the shooting, community members have maintained that Clark was in handcuffs when he was fatally shot. Police have disputed that.
RELATED: Timeline Of The Jamar Clark Case
On Wednesday, U.S. Attorney Andrew M. Luger said that the federal investigation concluded that Clark was not handcuffed when he was shot. He also said federal investigators would have had to prove the officers "acted with the specific intent" to break the law, calling that "one of the highest criminal standards" under the law.
"Under this standard," Lugar added, "it is not enough to show that the officers made a mistake, that they acted negligently or by accident, or even that they exercised bad judgement."
Speaking before reporters, Luger stressed that the federal investigators spoke with as many witnesses as they could and conducted a thorough and independent investigation. He said that the witness accounts of the shooting were conflicting and wouldn't likely hold in court if charges were brought. As such, the federal investigators relied on physical evidence, which suggested Clark was not cuffed when he was shot.
Luger said he spoke with Clark's family before the press conference.
"As a father with children the same age as Jamar Clark, my heart goes out to them," he said.
He called Clark's death a tragedy and spoke of a pilot program to address police reform.
Schwarze's attorney, Fred Bruno, said the decision Wednesday was no surprise and that two independent investigations have reached the same conclusion.
"The chances of that happening are pretty slim unless the facts are the facts and the officers are justified in doing what they did," he said.
Ringgenberg's attorney, Bob Sicoli, said he hoped a pending internal investigation by the police department would go quickly.
According to an earlier investigation by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, Clark refused to take his hands out of his pockets when Ringgenberg and Schwarze responded to a call of a man interfering with paramedics. Investigators say Ringgenberg tried to handcuff Clark by bringing him down to the ground, which resulted in a struggle.
When Clark grabbed hold Ringgenberg's gun, Schwarze shot him in the head soon after, investigators said. The encounter – from when the officers first approached Clark to the moment he was shot – lasted just over a minute.
In March, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman declined to file criminal charges against the officers. He said there was no bruising on Clark's wrists to suggest he was in handcuffs and that Clark's DNA was found on Ringgenberg's gun. Freeman also cited conflicting accounts by witnesses about whether Clark was cuffed.
Mayor Betsy Hodges requested the civil rights investigation.
An internal police investigation is now expected since the U.S. Justice Department's probe into the shooting has concluded. The Minneapolis police internal investigation will seek to determine if the actions of the officers were consistent with departmental policy and procedure, a statement Wednesday from the department said.
In the meantime, the U.S. Justice Department is also investigating the city's response to the post-shooting protests. Though those protests were largely peaceful, one demonstration outside the 4th Precinct soon after the shooting included some skirmishes between officers and protesters. At least one federal lawsuit has been filed accusing officers of excessive force during a Nov. 18 demonstration.
The Clark shooting spurred state lawmakers to examine longstanding complaints of racial inequities, particularly on the impoverished north side. Advocates requested more investment in minority-owned businesses and a summer job program for black teens, and lawmakers this spring set aside $35 million.
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