MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota's U.S. attorney says no federal civil rights charges will be filed against two Minneapolis police officers in last fall's shooting death of a black man.
Andrew Luger says there is insufficient evidence to support charges against the officers, who had a lethal confrontation with 24-year-old Jamar Clark last November.
Luger is the second prosecutor to decline to file charges in Clark's death, following Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman's announcement in March.
Clark's death set off weeks of protests on the city's north side, where some witnesses said Clark was handcuffed when he was shot. Freeman said forensic evidence backed up the officers' account that Clark was not handcuffed and that he had his hand on an officer's gun when he was shot.
Luger said Wednesday that witnesses disagreed on key details related to the handcuffs.
"Some saw Mr. Clark with handcuffs on while he was standing, some saw Mr. Clark with handcuffs on in front of him, and others behind him," Luger said, adding that some witnesses said they saw no handcuffs, while others said they only saw handcuffs on Clark while he was on the ground.
Luger said handcuffs recovered from the scene were tested for DNA, but could not be connected to Clark. A medical examiner also concluded that Clark had no bruising on his wrists that would indicate he had been handcuffed.
"Although the evidence is not conclusive, one would expect to see bruising given the circumstances," Luger said, paraphrasing the medical examiner.
The confrontation that led to Clark's death began when paramedics called police saying he was interfering with their efforts to treat an assault victim. Officers Mark Ringgenberg and Dustin Schwarze responded.
According to an investigation by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA), Clark refused orders to take his hands out of his pockets. The officers tried to handcuff him but failed. Ringgenberg wrestled Clark to the ground but wound up on his back atop Clark and felt Clark's hand on his weapon, according to the investigation.
Schwarze then shot Clark. The entire encounter that lasted barely more than a minute from the time the officers first arrived.
In March, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman declined to file criminal charges against the officers. He cited forensic evidence in the BCA investigation that found no bruising of Clark's wrists that handcuffs would likely have caused and found Clark's DNA on Ringgenberg's gun. Freeman also cited conflicting accounts by witnesses about whether Clark was cuffed.
Mayor Betsy Hodges requested the civil rights investigation, conducted by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Minnesota and the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, to determine whether the officers intentionally violated Clark's civil rights through excessive force. That's a high legal standard because an accident, bad judgment or simple negligence is not enough to bring federal charges.
The findings of an internal police investigation are expected to be released at some point, now that the results of the federal investigation have been announced.
The Justice Department is also reviewing how the city responded to the protests that followed Clark's death. 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.
Five demonstrators were also shot and lightly wounded near the 4th Precinct Nov. 23 in what a county prosecutor said was a racially motivated attack. Four men -- three white, one Asian -- were charged.
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.
Community groups said authorities have barred them from attending the news conference planned for Wednesday. Nekima Levy-Pounds said it's unacceptable that government leaders would exclude those who have been working for justice for Clark. Justice Department spokesman Ben Petok said community groups have been invited to a meeting at federal offices Wednesday afternoon and that the news conference is for accredited members of the media only.
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