Investigators of a shooting by a white police officer that left a Black man, Jacob Blake Jr., paralyzed and the town of Kenosha, Wisconsin, torn by civil strife found a knife belonging to Blake at the scene of the confrontation, the state attorney general said on Wednesday.
The incident sparked three nights of civil unrest that has included a wave of arson, widespread vandalism and a separate deadly shooting that claimed two lives in Kenosha, a city of about 100,000 residents on Lake Michigan, 40 miles south of Milwaukee.
In the first official details of Sunday’s shooting released by the Wisconsin Justice Department, which is probing the incident, Attorney General Josh Kaul said the knife was recovered from the driver-side front floorboard of the car Blake was leaning into when he was shot in the back.
Kaul also told a news conference that Blake, during the course of the investigation, had “admitted that he had a knife in his possession.”
Kaul did not describe the knife or say whether it had anything to do with why the officer, a seven-year veteran of the Kenosha police department identified as Rusten Sheskey, had opened fire on Blake.
Kaul’s press briefing came shortly before the US Justice Department announced it had opened its own federal civil rights inquiry into the shooting, to be conducted by the FBI in cooperation with Wisconsin’s state criminal investigators and other agencies.
In a separate development hours earlier, a teenager was arrested and charged with shooting three people, two of whom died, during Tuesday night’s protests in Kenosha.
Video footage from that incident showed a white gunman, armed with an assault-style rifle, firing at protesters who tried to subdue him, and then calmly walking away from the scene, hands in the air – his rifle hanging in front of him – as several police vehicles drive by without stopping him.
Wisconsin Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes said on MSNBC the suspect, later identified as 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse, of Antioch, Illinois, was apparently a militia group member who “decided to be a vigilante and take the law into his own hands and mow down innocent protesters.”
Authorities braced for a fourth night of possible upheavals on Wednesday. Governor Tony Evers said he was doubling the size of the National Guard force he had ordered deployed to 500 troops, and Kenosha officials said a dusk-to-dawn curfew would go into effect an hour earlier on Wednesday.
About 200 protesters defied the curfew early in the evening as they marched peacefully through city streets, while law enforcement kept a relatively low profile.
PREAMBLE TO SHOOTING
According to Kaul’s account of events leading up to the Blake shooting, city police confronted Blake when they were called to the home of a woman who reported that her boyfriend was present “and was not suppose to be on the premises.”
The location he gave for the residence corresponds with the address of the woman identified in media reports as Blake’s fiance, Laquisha Booker.
During the incident, Kaul said, police tried to arrest Blake, using a Taser stun gun in a failed attempt to subdue him.
Blake, according to the attorney general, then walked around his vehicle, opened the driver’s side door and leaned forward, as officer Sheskey, clutching Blake’s shirt, fired his weapon seven times at Blake’s back.
Kaul said no other police officers fired their weapons. The officers involved have been placed on administrative leave.
Bystanders captured the encounter in video footage that has since gone viral, unleashing public outrage at the latest in a long series of instances in which police have been accused of using indiscriminate lethal force against African Americans.
Kaul said police in Kenosha are not equipped with body cameras.
A lawyer for Blake’s family, civil rights attorney Ben Crump, has said Blake had been attempting to break up a quarrel between two women when he was confronted by police and that there was no indication he was armed when shot.
Three of Blake’s young sons – aged 3, 5 and 8 – were in the vehicle at the time and witnessed their father being gunned down, Crump said. Blake has a total of six children.
According to Crump, Blake was struck by four of the seven gunshot rounds fired at him. Bullets shattered some of his vertebrae, leaving Blake paralyzed from the waist down, possibly permanently, his lawyers said. He also suffered wounds to his stomach, intestines, kidney and liver and will require multiple operations to recover, they said.
Kaul said his department’s division of criminal investigations plans to issue a full report on the incident to prosecutors in 30 days, and that no other details were immediately available.
Blake’s family and protesters have demanded the officers involved in the shooting be immediately fired and prosecuted.
On Wednesday, the Milwaukee Bucks – the only NBA team based in Wisconsin – boycotted their playoff game with the Orlando Magic in the club’s own protest over racial injustice.
The National Basketball Association later canceled all its games for Wednesday.
The protests also spilled over to Major League Baseball, with the Brewers and Cincinnati Reds opting not to play their game Wednesday in Milwaukee. The Seattle Mariners and San Diego Padres also agreed to postpone their game, ESPN reported.