Civil rights inquiry due in Minneapolis police shooting

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Federal officials in Minneapolis will announce Wednesday whether they believe the civil rights of a 24-year-old man were violated last November in a confrontation with two police officers that led to his death.

An officer shot Jamar Clark Nov. 15, and he died a day later. His death sparked weeks of protests and an 18-day occupation outside a north side police precinct. A key issue was whether Clark was handcuffed at the time of the shooting. Several witnesses said he was; police said he was not.  

The confrontation that led to Clark’s death began when police were called by paramedics who said 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, 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 in an encounter that lasted barely more than a minute from the time 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. They will 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 DOJ is also reviewing how the city responded to the protests that followed Clark’s death, which included some skirmishes between officers and protesters. An internal police investigation is also expected once the results of the federal investigation are released.

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