KENOSHA, Wis. - A Black man who was paralyzed after he was shot in the back by a white police officer in southeastern Wisconsin filed a civil lawsuit Thursday accusing the officer of excessive force.
"One of the most egregious shootings that we've ever seen captured on video," said B'Ivory Lamarr, attorney for Jacob Blake Jr.
Blake was shot by Kenosha Officer Rusten Sheskey in August while Blake was about to get into an SUV during a domestic dispute. Blake's federal complaint against Sheskey, the only defendant, is seeking unspecified damages.
The shooting of Blake, captured on bystander video, turned the nation’s spotlight on Wisconsin during a summer marked by protests over police brutality and racism. It happened three months after George Floyd died while being restrained by police officers in Minneapolis. The white officer charged with murder and manslaughter in Floyd's killing is currently on trial.
Sheskey and two other Kenosha officers were trying to arrest Blake on an outstanding warrant when a pocketknife fell from his pants during a scuffle. Blake said he picked it up before heading to a vehicle to drive away with two of his children in the back seat. He said he was prepared to surrender once he put the knife in the vehicle.
Sheskey told investigators that he feared for his own safety so he opened fire, shooting Blake seven times, ending in Blake's paralysis from the waist down.
"He doesn't even wait to see if the first shot stops whatever harm he claims he was in imminent fear of," said Lamarr.
A Wisconsin prosecutor declined to file criminal charges against Sheskey, concluding he couldn’t disprove the officer’s contention that he acted in self-defense because he thought the man would stab him.
This was after officers tried arresting Blake on an outstanding warrant with a stun-gun but were unsuccessful.
Court documents do not list an attorney for Sheskey.
The 18-page complaint includes still photos showing each of the seven shots fired by Sheskey, asking how Shesky could've felt fear for his life after Blake dropped his knife in the vehicle and was walking away from him. It says Blake's now dealing with physical and psychological damage, and that the city should be held responsible. The officer held the muzzle only a few feet away from where Blake's two young children were seated, putting them in "imminent danger" from being hit by gunfire or ricocheting bullets, according to the complaint.
Sheskey's actions were "undertaken with malice, willfulness and reckless indifference to the rights" of Blake, the lawsuit said.
Lamarr says the video shows Blake wasn't threatening Sheskey.
"His left arm is on the handle," said Lamarr. "His right arm is extended inside the vehicle, and only after the knife was dropped does the officer start shooting seven times."
Since the shooting, the lawsuit says Blake has suffered great mental anguish, humiliation and a damaged reputation in addition to the physical injuries. He's seeking payment both as compensation and punishment for what happened.
"Medical care in 2021 is not cheap, and when you're paralyzed from the waist down, you know, those costs are very burdensome," said Lamarr. "
John Morrissey, city administrator, issued this statement to FOX6 News: "The incident has been thoroughly examined by the Wisconsin Department of Justice, and former City of Madison Police Chief and use-of-force expert Noble Wray. Based on their findings and independent reports, the City of Kenosha will vigorously defend this case."