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US Justice Dept. Opens Civil Rights Probe into Police Shooting of Wisconsin Black Man

Protesters raise their fists during a demonstration against the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis., on Aug. 26, 2020.

The U.S. Justice Department announced Wednesday it will open a civil rights probe into the police shooting of a Black man in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

Jacob Blake was shot in the back Sunday, leaving him partially paralyzed from the waist down along with serious injuries to several of his internal organs.

The Justice Department issued a statement saying the probe will be handled by the FBI in cooperation with Wisconsin state law enforcement investigators and other state authorities.

Earlier Wednesday, the Wisconsin Department of Justice released the first official account of the shooting that was caught on camera and led to four consecutive days of protests in Kenosha, located more than 60 kilometers south of Milwaukee on Lake Michigan.

According to the report, Kenosha police had been called to a residence "after a female caller reported that her boyfriend was present and was not supposed to be on the premises."

The report says officers unsuccessfully used a Taser when trying to arrest the 29-year-old Blake in the home’s front yard, then trailed him as he walked to his vehicle and opened the driver’s door.

The remains of the cars burned by protesters the previous night during a demonstration against the shooting of Jacob Blake are seen on a used cars lot in Kenosha, Wis., on Aug. 26, 2020.
The remains of the cars burned by protesters the previous night during a demonstration against the shooting of Jacob Blake are seen on a used cars lot in Kenosha, Wis., on Aug. 26, 2020.

The Wisconsin DOJ said as Blake leaned into the car, Officer Rusten Sheskey, a seven-year veteran of the Kenosha Police Department, grabbed Blake by his shirt and fired his service weapon seven times into his back. None of the other officers on the scene fired their weapons.

The report noted that Kenosha police do not have body cameras on their uniforms.

Investigators said Wednesday they found a knife on the driver’s side floorboard in Blake’s car, but no other weapons. The report said Blake had told officers he had a knife in his possession, although it is unclear whether Sheskey knew of the knife when he shot Blake or if Blake threatened the officer with the knife.

Attorneys for Blake say their client did not pose a threat to police and denied he was even in possession of a knife. They say he only wanted to get three of his young children who were in the vehicle “out of a volatile situation.”

As the investigation into Blake’s shooting continues, authorities said a 17-year-old male was arrested in Illinois in connection with the shooting deaths of two people late Tuesday night during a third consecutive night of protests in Kenosha.

Police arrested Kyle Rittenhouse at his home in Antioch, Illinois, about 24 kilometers from Kenosha. Rittenhouse, who is being held in Illinois, was also charged as a fugitive from justice, according to court records. His extradition hearing is scheduled for Friday.

According to Wisconsin law, Rittenhouse would be charged as an adult.

On Tuesday, cellphone video was released showing a person carrying what appears to be an assault rifle running down a major street and being chased by a group of people. The apparent gunman shot at several of his pursuers as they began to surround him after he fell to the ground.

Kenosha County Sheriff David Beth told reporters Wednesday that what happened in the streets of Kenosha on Tuesday night is why people should not try to take the law into their own hands.

Demonstrators protests the shooting of Jacob Blake on Aug. 26, 2020, in Kenosha, Wis.
Demonstrators protests the shooting of Jacob Blake on Aug. 26, 2020, in Kenosha, Wis.

"I had a person call me and say, 'Why don't you deputize citizens who have guns to come out and patrol the city of Kenosha?' ...Oh, hell no. What happened last night...was probably the perfect reason why I wouldn't,” Beth said.

President Donald Trump tweeted Wednesday he would "be sending federal law enforcement and the National Guard to Kenosha, WI to restore LAW and ORDER!"

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany released a statement Wednesday that said, "President Trump condemns violence in all forms and believes we must protect all Americans from chaos and lawlessness.”

Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers announced he was doubling the number of National Guard troops deployed to Kenosha to 500.

U.S. Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec tweeted that FBI agents and U.S. Marshals were being deployed to the city in response to the unrest.

In a video tweeted Wednesday, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said he talked to Blake’s parents and told them "justice must and will be done."

"Once again, a Black man, Jacob Blake, was shot by the police. In front of his children. It makes me sick. Is this the country we want to be? Needless violence won’t heal us. We need to end the violence and peacefully come together to demand justice," Biden said.

Sen. Kamala Harris, the Democratic vice presidential candidate, also talked about the Wisconsin shootings during an online event Wednesday in Michigan, and said, "And what happened there is so tragic and still represents the two systems of justice in America. There are still two systems of justice in America.”

The National Basketball Association’s Milwaukee Bucks boycotted their scheduled playoff game on Wednesday to protest Blake’s shooting, prompting four other teams to boycott their scheduled games. The boycott caused a ripple effect across other major professional sports, with the Women’s NBA, Major League Baseball and Major League Soccer also boycotting and postponing games.