Wisconsin AG Pushes Back On Criticism Of Investigation Into Jacob Blake Shooting

Aug 28, 2020
Originally published on August 28, 2020 5:01 pm

The Wisconsin Department of Justice is continuing to investigate the police shooting of Jacob Blake days after he was shot seven times in front of his three sons by a police officer in Kenosha, Wis. He was left paralyzed from the waist down.

In response, a week of protests and violent unrest erupted across the city of Kenosha. Kyle Rittenhouse, an Illinois teenager, faces homicide charges in connection with a Tuesday night shooting that killed two protesters in the city and injured a third.

The state's attorney general, Josh Kaul, a Democrat, is overseeing the investigation into Blake's shooting. His office has been criticized for providing information about the shooting without additional context. In a statement Wednesday, for example, the state Department of Justice said Blake had a knife "in his possession" at the time of the shooting but didn't clarify if responding officers knew about the weapon.

"This is an ongoing investigation, and there are certain facts that are being developed and there are going to be some facts that are, will be the source of dispute potentially," Kaul said in an interview Friday with NPR's All Things Considered. "So we are limiting the information we are providing right now to some specific clear facts because we want to make sure we are keeping people informed about what's going on with the investigation but also protecting the integrity of the investigation."


Interview Highlights

On why investigators have released certain facts about the investigation but not others

We're trying to put out information about facts that are very clear from the investigation so far. The fact that certain evidence was recovered, for example, or that a Taser was deployed, the basic facts of the case so that we're being as open and transparent about things as we can be. Even some of that information we only provided after some of the key material witness interviews were conducted. We're going to keep providing information to the extent that we can, but to the extent that there are facts that may be the source of a dispute and could be at the center of this case ultimately, those are issues that are going to be in front of the prosecutor who is making the charging decision and if a charge is brought, in front of a jury.

On whether releasing information about a knife was an effort to justify the police shooting

Absolutely not. We are providing information about the basic facts of the case. Our goals in this case is to conduct a full, thorough and vigorous investigation and to get to the truth of the relevant facts to the extent possible.

On people lacking confidence in how the case is being handled

I absolutely understand why people are skeptical. We have a history of systemic racism, and our criminal justice system is part of that system. There are massive disparities in incarceration rates, and Wisconsin has the highest Black male incarceration rate in the country. What I can tell you is that I am personally committed to making sure that this investigation is conducted vigorously and that we are pursuing justice and following the facts where they lead.

Elena Burnett and Justine Kenin produced and edited the audio version of this story.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

People in Wisconsin have been protesting in the streets all week demanding justice. It all started on Sunday, when a police officer in Kenosha shot a Black man named Jacob Blake in the back multiple times in front of his children. Blake is in the hospital, paralyzed from the waist down according to relatives. On Tuesday, a 17-year-old white man allegedly killed two protesters in Kenosha and injured a third. He's been charged with homicide. Wisconsin's attorney general, Josh Kaul, is overseeing the investigation into the Jacob Blake shooting. Attorney General Kaul, welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

JOSH KAUL: Thanks for having me.

SHAPIRO: Just to start with the most basic facts of this case, why were police trying to arrest Jacob Blake?

KAUL: The officers were responding to a call from a woman who said that there was a person on her property who wasn't supposed to be there. In the course of responding to that event, they conducted an arrest. There was an effort to restrain Mr. Blake. Ultimately, two officers used their tasers but were not successful. And then as we saw, one of the officers shot Mr. Blake seven times.

SHAPIRO: You've said what officers were responding to, and you said that they tried to conduct an arrest. You haven't said why they arrested Jacob Blake specifically or attempted to.

KAUL: Yeah, that's right. This is an ongoing investigation, and there are certain facts that are being developed. And there are going to be some facts that are - will be the source of dispute potentially. So we are limiting the information we're providing right now to some specific, clear facts because we want to make sure we're keeping people informed about what's going on with the investigation but also protecting the integrity of the investigation.

SHAPIRO: And yet, people have questioned why you're releasing some of the details that you are. For example, your office put out a press release saying that there was a knife, and yet you've been asked many questions, like whether officers were aware that Jacob Blake had the knife, which you've refused to answer. So why put out that kind of information and not provide the context?

KAUL: We're trying to put out information about facts that are very clear from the investigation so far, the fact that certain evidence was recovered, for example, or that a Taser was deployed. We are being as open and transparent about things as we can be. Even some of that information we only provided after some of the key material witness interviews were conducted. We're going to keep providing information to the extent we can. But to the extent that there are facts that may be the source of dispute and could be at the center of this case ultimately, those are issues that are going to be in front of the prosecutor who's making the charging decision and if a charge is brought in front of a jury.

SHAPIRO: I think many people read the press release saying that there was a knife as an effort by the Justice Department to justify the police shooting. Is that what that was?

KAUL: Absolutely not. We are providing information about the basic facts of the case. Our goal in this case is to conduct a full, thorough and vigorous investigation and to get to the truth of the relevant facts to the extent possible.

SHAPIRO: What can you tell us about the latest on Blake's condition?

KAUL: My understanding is that he is in critical but stable condition. I wish for his swift recovery and that it's as full of a recovery is possible.

SHAPIRO: I want to play you a clip from Jacob Blake's father, who is also named Jacob Blake.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JACOB BLAKE SR: I don't have the confidence in anybody that is white that is doing an investigation about a Black young man that was shot seven times in his back.

SHAPIRO: When you look at the track record of police accountability for killing Black men, can you blame this father for not having any confidence?

KAUL: I absolutely understand why people are skeptical. We have a history of systemic racism, and our criminal justice system is part of that. There are massive disparities in incarceration rates, and Wisconsin has the highest Black male incarceration rate in the country. What I can tell you is that I am personally committed to making sure that this investigation is conducted vigorously and that we're pursuing justice and following the facts where they lead.

SHAPIRO: Many people have seen videos showing police officers at protests thanking groups of heavily armed white men, not enforcing curfew against them. Do you think it is a problem that police in Kenosha are expressing appreciation for white men walking the street with guns when one such person went on to kill protesters, particularly as your office puts out a statement saying that a Black man shot by police had a knife in his car?

KAUL: I was disturbed by the video that I saw, and I hope and expect that a review will be conducted of that incident, certainly by the agency for which that officer works. There's also been the announcement of a federal civil rights investigation. And I don't know what the scope of that will be, but I expect that the investigators in that case will consider all relevant facts to their civil rights investigation. And whether that ultimately includes some of the incidents you're mentioning, I'm not sure. But I do think there needs to be a review of that.

SHAPIRO: I think many people watching the video would reach the conclusion that there are systemic problems, that the culture is broken, that the individual officer here may be the problem but is not the extent of the problem.

KAUL: As I mentioned, there is clearly systemic racism in our society, throughout the criminal justice system and much more broadly, frankly. And there is a lot that we need to do to work to address that. And that applies to the criminal justice system and applies more broadly.

SHAPIRO: Josh Kaul is the attorney general for the state of Wisconsin. Thank you for speaking with us today.

KAUL: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.