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The Wisconsin attorney general said Monday he had chosen a former Madison police chief to serve as an independent consultant to prosecutors assessing whether to press charges against the officer who shot Jacob Blake, a man black who remained paralyzed from waist to feet.
The filming of Blake August 23 by a white police officer from Kenosha made Wisconsin the epicenter of the ongoing national debate over police violence and racial injustice. It came three months after George Floyd died in police custody in Minneapolis.
Noble Wray, the expert who will review the case, is Black. After his retirement as Chief of Madison in 2013, Wray became a national leader in work on police reform, anti-racism, and education on implicit bias. Wray was Chief for nine years and worked 30 years as a police officer, an experience which Attorney General Josh Kaul and Kenosha County District Attorney Michael Gravely said would be crucial when reviewing the case.
Gravely said he asked for the consultant but asked the Justice Department to choose.
Kaul said his department’s investigation into the shooting was in its final stages. When that is done, he will return it to Wray for review and analysis. It will then be up to Gravely to decide whether to file a complaint. Gravely said Monday he had not yet made a decision on laying charges.
Gravely said Wray would bring “diverse” and “abundant” perspectives to the case.
Wray said he would provide an overview and perspective on the case, but not prejudge it. Wray said he would complete his review as soon as possible, but he was not given a timeline once he received the investigation file.
“I didn’t prejudge the case,” Wray said.
Blake was shot seven times in the back after walking away from the officer and two other people trying to stop him. The officer, Rusten Sheskey, shot Blake after he opened the driver’s side door of an SUV and leaned into the vehicle. Three of Blake’s children were in the back seat. The shooting was caught on video and webcast quickly, fueling protests hours later.
The state Department of Justice said a knife was recovered from Blake’s vehicle, but did not say if he was holding it when officers attempted to stop him.
Blake’s attorney, Ben Crump, said Blake was only trying to end a family argument and had done nothing to provoke the police. Crump called for the arrest of Sheskey, the officer who shot Blake, and the dismissal of the two other officers involved in the shooting.
Sheskey and the other officers at the scene – Vincent Arenas and Brittany Meronek – were placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of an investigation by the Wisconsin Department of Justice. None of them have been charged.
The Kenosha Police Union said officers were dispatched on August 23 due to a complaint that Blake was attempting to steal the appellant’s keys and vehicle. Union attorney Brendan Matthews said officers knew Blake had an open warrant for sexual assault before they arrived.
Blake pleaded not guilty on September 4 to charges accusing him of sexually assaulting a woman in May. The trial date has been set for November 9.
Kenosha is a town of about 100,000 people on the shores of Lake Michigan halfway between Milwaukee and Chicago.
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