No justice from MPD investigation

MPD tries to close the book on the Jamar Clark killing, but their misleading Internal Affairs report cannot hide policy violations

By Rachel Wannarka and Jason Sole (with editing assistance from Brendan Miller)

Image of Chief Harteau and Mayor Hodges from press conference October 21, 2016

On Friday, Minneapolis police Chief JaneĆ© Harteau (alongside Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges) announced the results of the MPD Internal Affairs investigation into the actions of officers Schwarze and Ringgenberg in the case of Jamar Clark, an unarmed black man shot in the head on November 2015. It is perhaps not surprising that the police cleared themselves of any wrongdoing – though we had hoped for progress, this was business as usual. But it is jarring that their Internal Affairs overview and statements by Chief Harteau include misleading claims about the events surrounding the unnecessary and tragic police killing of Jamar Clark.

We have previously documented the numerous policy violations in this case. Along with the family and community, we were disappointed to hear Chief Harteau state “After looking at all the evidence and all the verifiable facts in this case, I can say with absolute certainty that I fully support the actions of Officers Ringgenberg and Schwarze the morning of November 15th. We did not find any violation of MPD policy.”

The released MPD Internal Affairs overview fails to even address many of the violations previously noted, including false statements made by both Schwarze and Ringgenberg to the BCA. Contrary to Chief Harteau’s characterization, the overview does describe actions constituting several indisputable policy violations. Rather than calling the violations what they are, the overview manufactures justifications.

For example, quoting from MPD policy 4-218: “The driver shall wear the wireless microphone, verify that it is turned on and shall be responsible for ensuring that it is working properly throughout the shift.” Schwarze’s policy violation as the driver in not wearing the microphone is excused: “The common practice at the time was to store the wireless microphones in the squad.” As another example, quoting from MPD policy 7-810.03: “The Incident Commander at the scene shall promptly assign an Escort to stay with each Involved Officer… Escorts shall keep the Involved Officers separate from other Involved and Witness Officers.” But Schwarze and Ringgenberg were transported back to the precinct in the same vehicle; this is excused as “reasonable under the circumstances… A growing group of people were gathering near the scene… Additional escort officers or squad cars for separate transport were not available at the scene.” Addressing this policy violation by blaming the crowd that was concerned about Clark being shot is obscene. It is simply false that other squad cars were not on scene; the transporting squad 425 arrived at 00:51:24 after at least 411 and 420 were already there.

Where the Internal Affairs overview attempts to argue that policy was not violated, for example with Schwarze’s failure to activate the vehicle emergency lights and consequently the dashcam, it makes misleading claims and/or disregards published evidence. Here is what Schwarze told the BCA: “When we got in the vehicle we looked at the computer screen that’s in our car and there was call notes in the call that said request police respond code 3. Which means, it’s urgent.” But the overview presents the call as routine in an attempt to justify this violation; acknowledging that “A ‘code 3’ response is a request for emergency services where officers would activate lights and siren”, it is claimed “‘Assist EMS’ is a routine dispatch and is not treated as an incident where officers typically respond with lights and siren.” No mention is made of Schwarze’s own prior testimony to the BCA that they treated the call as code 3. Schwarze told the BCA that they didn’t activate the emergency lights because “there was no stop signs or red lights or anything this was a very quick within three blocks” but there is a stop sign at Morgan and traffic signal lights at Logan along the route. The overview carefully skips over Schwarze’s false statement about the stop sign: “The officers indicated there were no red lights or intersections to clear and they, therefore, did not activate their lights or sirens.”

Incredibly, the Internal Affairs overview relies exclusively on Ringgenberg’s self-interested testimony to the BCA to argue that his takedown was not a prohibited choke hold: “Officer Ringgenberg did not use a ‘choke hold’ technique. Officer Ringgenberg stated that he grabbed Mr. Clark around the upper chest to bring him to the ground. (Ringgenberg statement BCA).” But witnesses characterized Ringgenberg’s takedown as a choke hold and we view the ambulance video as supporting the witness accounts rather than that of the involved officer.

Chief Harteau echoed Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman in claiming “DNA evidence does show Clark grabbed Officer Ringgenberg’s holster and gun” but this has been extensively debunked; for example, expert Patrick Sullivan told MPR that DNA is “not a truth serum… I might shake your hand and touch [my] gun and you never touched the gun but your DNA might end up on the gun.” It is easy to conceive of how Clark’s DNA could have been indirectly transferred by Ringgenberg when he grabbed Clark’s hands, rolled around on top of him, then drew his gun after Clark was shot. (Indirect transfer explains how Ringgenberg’s own shirt had Rayann Hayes’ blood on it, even though he never touched her because she was already in the ambulance.) There were no fingerprints from Clark on Ringgenberg’s gun.

Both the overview and Chief Harteau describe video as showing Ringgenberg was “pulled back” down or toward Clark, but (just like Freeman when he declined charges) there is no acknowledgment that the portion of video where Ringgenberg’s body enters the frame visibly twisting back and forth on top of Clark covers the seconds immediately after Clark had already been shot by Schwarze at 00:50:02.

There is no attempt to explain why not a single witness, including the EMTs, heard any of the dialogue alleged by the officers including Ringgenberg’s purported screams of “he’s got my gun” or why surveillance video shows bystanders strongly reacting to the shot but not particularly to Ringgenberg’s purported screams.

There are also no answers provided to open questions including why the officers took so long to reach 1611 Plymouth after acknowledging the initial call, whether the officers have a history of violence that repeated with Jamar Clark (both Schwarze and Ringgenberg have been accused of brutality in ways that oddly echo some aspects of the Clark incident), why evidence pictures of Schwarze after the incident showed him in his shirt rather than the jacket he was wearing and why testing after the BCA requested the uniforms (from Schwarze’s attorney) showed no blood at all on Schwarze’s jacket or pants, whether Schwarze and Ringgenberg reviewed video evidence from the ambulance prior to providing their statements to the BCA, why their statements were not obtained within the specified 48 hour interval after the incident, and why witnesses at the scene were essentially intimidated and coerced into leaving (including through the apparently unauthorized use of a chemical agent) rather than asked for immediate statements about the incident.

History teaches us not to expect justice when police are tasked with investigating themselves. Though Ringgenberg and Schwarze arguably should never have been hired, and though their actions that night should easily have disqualified them from their positions with MPD, they are now free to return to the same streets on which they killed Jamar Clark one year ago.