Investigation reports chronicle police, Jacob Blake’s own accounts of knife during shooting
MADISON, Wis. — Investigation reports from the Wisconsin Department of Justice detail Jacob Blake’s own account of the knife that played such a key role in an officer’s decision to shoot him seven times on August 23 in Kenosha–and a prosecutor’s decision not to charge the officer. Police say he had a history of attempting to stab law enforcement; two Kenosha police officers say the knife was being swung at the officer in the moment before the shooting.
Blake, however, told investigators in newly-released reports that the knife was something he wore at all times–and that he was trying to toss it into the car rather than at an officer during the shooting incident. His attorneys slammed the decision on Tuesday, saying it demonstrated that it was “OK for police to abuse their power and recklessly shoot their weapon, destroying the life of someone who was trying to protect his children.”
“Why would I pull a knife on a cop?” he’s heard asking from his hospital bed, two days after the shooting.
The Wisconsin Department of Justice has released hundreds of pages and dozens of pictures and videos in reports and evidence in their investigation into the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha.
In a press conference on Tuesday announcing no charges for police officers involved, Kenosha district attorney Michael Graveley focused on what police knew in the moments between first arriving. The evidence used to come to a charging decision, he said, primarily happened off camera from a cell phone video that went viral in the shooting’s aftermath.
On August 23, Kenosha police officer Rusten Sheskey shot Blake, a Black man, seven times at close range, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down. The shooting prompted a wave of demonstrations and protests both in Wisconsin and nationwide, and Blake’s family and attorneys along with community advocates have called for Shuskey to be fired, charged and convicted. Noble Wray, a former Madison police chief and use of force expert, was hired to provide an independent analysis of the case for Graveley before a charging decision.
When Kenosha police officers responded to Blake’s home after a 911 call, a dispatcher had told them that a woman had called police saying that Blake wasn’t supposed to be there, and that he was threatening to take her SUV.
Police knew at least one of Blake’s children were in the car when Sheskey shot him seven times in the back and side after trying to stop him with a taser; investigative reports indicate Sheskey believed he was protecting the children from kidnapping based on the domestic nature of the call and statements from Blake, the children’s mother, and a bystander. Family members and lawyers, however, have said Blake didn’t pose a threat to the officers.
“I’m taking the kids, and I’m taking the car,” Sheskey says he thought he heard Blake say. From the children’s mother: “It’s him–he has my keys; he has my car.”
Paralyzed from the waist down, the bullets severed Blake’s spinal cord; in a video posted in August, Blake said it hurt to breathe, sleep and eat. Blake’s attorney Benjamin Crump has said it would take a “miracle” for Blake to walk again, who was released from the hospital in October. Graveley said he had spoken with Blake prior to announcing the charging decision on Tuesday, and that he said he was “still suffering daily” from the injuries.
In 20-minute audio interview released as part of the DOJ reports on Tuesday, a groggy Jacob Blake is heard two days after the shooting acknowledging possession of a knife in a conversation with a DCI investigator.
Forming a key part of the case was Blake’s knife, which he told investigators he had dropped on the ground behind the rental SUV when he saw police cars pull up. In a timeline provided by investigators during the press conference, Graveley said it was believed he had regained the knife at some point during the subsequent struggle with officers around the car.
Before Tuesday’s release of the state investigative files, the DOJ had only announced that a knife had been found on the driver’s side floorboard of Blake’s car, but hadn’t indicated when officers became aware of it. Tuesday, prosecutors and investigative reports indicate information pieced together through witnesses, interviews and video that they say show Blake got the knife after an initial struggle behind the SUV.
Blake told investigators he had dropped the knife on the ground when he first saw police drive up, but picked it up later after the struggle where officers tried to arrest him–he said it was because he was trying to leave and didn’t want to lose the knife.
“[Blake recalls] at some point he was tackled to the ground and he got up and picked up his knife again,” the DCI report of the first interview with Blake reads, referring to the early moments of the incident when police first tried to arrest him. “Blake also stated that he wanted to put his knife away in the car because the knife was a gift given to him and it meant a lot to him and he did not want to lose it.”
At that point in the interview, case agents stopped the conversation because Blake had made an incriminating statement and had not yet been read his Miranda rights. Blake started drifting in and out of sleep, according to the report, and investigators felt he couldn’t understand when they tried to read him his rights.
In follow-up interviews with investigators, Blake said he had no intention of using the knife on officers; a knife was simply what he always carried around.
“I didn’t want to leave my knife behind,” he said. “I should’ve just left it because that instantly gives them a defense… ‘We shot him because he had a knife.’ But I’ve always got my knife.”
After officers had attempted to arrest Blake, including twice deploying a taser that Blake ripped off, investigators say Sheskey decided to ‘re-engage’ Blake as he was preparing to leave with the car and children in the back. Wray said that under existing use of force standards and given the context of domestic violence and danger to children, the decision was “objectively reasonable.”
Sheskey and Ofc. Arenas, as well as a witness, say they saw Blake’s body move toward the officer as he was getting into the car. In interviews with investigators, Blake reported swapping his knife from his left to right hand to open the car door.
Sheskey said that just before he shot, he saw Blake’s hand with a knife in it coming towards Sheskey; another officer next to Sheskey reported the same. Sheskey shot Blake four times in the back and three times on his left side, saying he shot until Blake dropped his knife.
Blake, however, told investigators that he was intending to throw the knife into the car as he was getting in, and said he wasn’t intending to throw it towards a police officers.
“Why would I pull a knife on a cop? What am I? A knife thrower?” he asked DCI investigators in an interview. “I ain’t going to pull no knife on no damn cop.”
Past police interactions
When officers responded to his home in August of 2020, they knew Blake was wanted for felony sexual assault charges connected to an incident with his girlfriend a few weeks earlier. He reached a plea deal and is now serving two years of probation after pleading guilty to two misdemeanors involving domestic abuse.
Prosecutors also cited five previous domestic disturbances that involved police and Jacob Blake, three of which included high speed chases, as the reason to label the incident domestic violence.
Prosecutors say that Blake had a run-in with the Cook County Sheriff’s Department in Illinois in 2010, where deputies say he didn’t follow commands, resisted arrest, and attempted to stab officers with a knife out of his waistband.
Legal conclusions, Self-Defense Basis
The Kenosha County District Attorney’s Office said that they would not be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Sheskey did not act out of self defense, or use an amount of force necessary to prevent imminent death to himself or others–a common legal basis for officers cleared in shootings nationwide.
Wray said in his report that he believed the use of force was justified based on the available facts, despite beginning the case with questions and an emotional response to what he had seen in cell phone videos posted online.
“I also had major concerns when I first saw this officer-involved shooting in media reports,” he wrote in his conclusions. “I know more now, and I am committed to my conclusions, but the policing field must continue to focus on the sanctity of human life in dealing with deadly force.”
In his report conclusions, Wray acknowledged that there may have been a window of opportunity at the beginning of the incident for Sheskey to establish a rapport with Blake, but that “given the totality of circumstances” he had acted within an “acceptable range of proportionality.” Proportionality, he noted, is deciding whether an officer has used the correct type and amount of force when matched to what the officer perceives as the threat.
Led by the Division of Criminal Investigation and assisted by the FBI, the investigation involved 88 witness interviews, 28 videos, 4 search warrants, 102 pieces of evidence, and more than 600 man hours as of the end of August. Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul announced in September that the investigative files would be turned over to an outside consultant, former Madison police chief Noble Wray, to provide an analysis to Kenosha County district attorney Michael Graveley. DCI investigations do not provide charging recommendations to district attorneys, according to the DOJ; outside investigations of officer shootings are required under Wisconsin law.
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