County attorney’s decision not to prosecute cops draws heated dissent

The ‘facts’ of the Clark case remain in dispute

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman

As Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman reiterates that there was not enough evidence to charge two Minneapolis police officers for shooting Jamar Clark last November, activist leaders have made clear their strong dissent from that decision.

“We lost a young Black man,” said Freeman of Clark, who died a couple of days after being shot by police on a corner on Plymouth Avenue in North Minneapolis, in an MSR exclusive phone interview Monday. “Do I wish the cops had other means to subduing him short of shooting him? Sure. He’d be alive today.”

The Clark case prompted a three-week occupation of the block outside the Fourth Precinct, a couple of blocks from where the 24-year-old was shot, as well as numerous other protests and cries of outrage from many in the Black community. Last week’s announcement by Freeman that no charges will be brought against Minneapolis police officers Dustin Schwarze and Mark Ringgenberg was greeted afterwards with disappointment and anger from many community residents, who protested outside his office, downtown, and on Plymouth Avenue.

Related content: Protesters react to county attorney’s decision in Jamar Clark case By Wayne Nealis

Freeman’s decision sends a “message” to the Black community that anything they say in police-involved shootings won’t be taken into account, said University of St. Thomas Law Professor Nekima Levy-Pounds, who also is Minneapolis NAACP president. She also spoke in an MSR exclusive phone interview, this one Sunday night. Her organization and Black Lives Matter-Minneapolis on Monday called for a reopening of the Clark case and appointment of a special prosecutor. She argued that the county attorney pitted testimonies from community residents against those from Schwarze, Ringgenberg and other Minneapolis police officers — and then sided with the officers.

“What does this say to African American witnesses when their statements are totally discounted?” said Levy-Pounds. “I asked Mike point blank at the press conference, ‘Did any witness collaborate the statements by the two officers?’ And he said, ‘None,’” she stressed.

The Clark case, according to Freeman, had “much confusion and disagreement,” including “the variety of witnesses all over the place with handcuffs,” he continued. “What is being lost in all of the press conferences and all the reviews…and legal misstatements by Professor Nekima Levy-Pounds, [is that] my job was to decide whether there was sufficient evidence to prove that the officers acted without justification in the killing of Jamar Clark.”

Freeman pointed out, “With Jamar Clark’s DNA all over the gun, hoister and the belt with no Clark DNA on the handcuffs…there simply [was] not enough evidence to go to a jury to suggest they [the officers] acted unreasonably.

“Many people are ignoring [what] the legal standard is, including a lot of folk demonstrating,” said Freeman.

Nekima Levy-Pounds speaks to the crowd
Nekima Levy-Pounds

When asked to comment on Levy-Pounds’ and others’ assertions that he only took the police statements into account, Freeman said, “I understand that there’s strong feelings in the community about this. That’s why I put everything up on the website — everything. A hundred and thirty-two BCA reports, 1,311 pages — I read every single one of them.

“All of the autopsy [reports], forensic, and I looked at all the tapes,” Freeman continued. “I would suggest that very few people on the outside, including Prof. Levy-Pounds, have not done that. I have.”

RayAnn Hayes, the woman who reportedly injured her ankle in a domestic dispute with Clark, appeared at Monday’s NAACP-BLM press conference. She said last week in a WCCO-TV interview that she was not Clark’s girlfriend and that he didn’t cause her injuries. Levy-Pounds and others disagreed with Freeman’s characterization of her.

“He [Clark] was trying to be helpful to her,” said Levy-Pounds, a civil rights attorney and activist. “She talked to people in the hospital while recovering from a broken ankle. She didn’t call the police on Jamar. She called for an ambulance. She was calm, cool and collected.

“Mike Freeman had that information before he gave his press conference [last week], claiming that [Hayes] was his girlfriend and that he [Clark] beat her up,” said Levy-Pounds.

The MSR asked Freeman if the police statements, especially from those who arrived at the scene after Clark was shot, outweigh those given by Hayes and other community folk. “There were a lot of squad cars that came after the shooting. I focused on all the civilians who were there at the time, everyone who said they saw something and was there.

“If someone said that I heard my auntie say this, I read it, but I was not terribly impressed,” said Freeman. “The EMTs are not built up to lie for cops. They are trying to help people. They reported what RayAnn Hayes said.

Twenty community folk in testimonies on the Clark case “testified about handcuffs,” Freeman pointed out. “Two said he didn’t have handcuffs on. Six said they weren’t sure. Twelve said, ‘Yeah, he had handcuffs on.’ Some of them [said the handcuffs were] in the front of him, some said in the back, and some said on one wrist.

“In addition there were 12 police or EMT or non-community members who opined about handcuffs — they all said there were no handcuffs.”

Reportedly, Clark refused to heed either the EMT’s or the two officers’ demands during the incident, said Freeman. “He [Clark] resisted arrest. He resisted being handcuffed. Ringgenberg takes him down. Was he too aggressive? I don’t know… Ringgenberg’s gun belt rotated around. He said Clark’s hand was on the gun.

“Schwarze said, ‘Get your hand off the gun.’ Clark had time to take his hand off the gun and didn’t. The handcuffs had none of Clark’s DNA,” argued Freeman. “I’m quite comfortable with my decision. I believe other prosecutors would agree with me.”

The U.S. attorney’s “independent investigation” of the Clark case is still ongoing, noted Freeman. “He will make his own decision, as I did mine. I will respect his decision,” he said.

“The African American community is really upset and frustrated by the fact that Jamar Clark did not receive justice through this process,” said Levy-Pounds. “Mike Freeman had an opportunity…by holding the two officers responsible for his [Clark] death. Instead Mike Freeman chose to take the word of two police officers over 20 African American witnesses. When that happens and statements made by African Americans are discounted by government officials, it reinforces the notion that our voices don’t matter and our lives don’t matter.”

“We have a lot of people who disagree and won’t read the evidence,” said Freeman. “And there are people who want to question my decision. I wish we could spend the time talking about getting Black kids to school and keeping them there, and jobs, and opportunities.

“It is a disappointing decision,” said Freeman. “We lost a young Black man. I don’t want to lose any more Black men or White men. I want to lower the volume and want to enhance the dialogue, and I am willing to participate in that. I believe I did my job and answered the narrow question — I did my job and did more than that. I didn’t dump the decision to the grand jury. I met the goal of accountability.

“I didn’t condone or exonerate the cops. I believe they acted reasonably. I understand people disagreeing…but I am comfortable with the decision. I do not believe another prosecutor would make a different decision.”

 

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.