The ACLU and NAACP filed a lawsuit on Tuesday requesting state officials to release the video footage that recorded the fatal police shooting of an unarmed man named Jamar Clark. Although police claim that Clark had grabbed an officer’s gun when he was shot, witnesses assert Clark was handcuffed and on the ground when the police killed him.
At 12:45 a.m. on November 15, 2015, the Minneapolis Police Department responded to a domestic assault call. According to witnesses, Clark and his girlfriend were attending a friend’s birthday party when an argument erupted. Nekelia Sharp and her husband were shouting at each other when Clark’s girlfriend suddenly grabbed Sharp. While attempting to stop his girlfriend from interfering in the argument, Clark reportedly tried to pull her away.
“He was grabbing her, telling her to let me go, that had nothing to do with her, that’s not her business,” Sharp told MPRNews. “And actually, what the girl did was she hit him.”
According to Minneapolis Police Chief Janee Harteau, EMTs placed Clark’s girlfriend in an ambulance when he assaulted the paramedics and responding officers. During the struggle, Clark allegedly grabbed an officer’s holstered firearm when police shot him in the head. Although officers claim that Clark was not wearing handcuffs, several witnesses have stated Clark was on the ground, handcuffed and not resisting when an officer executed him.
Despite the fact that no police body cameras or dashcam videos recorded the shooting, footage from a nearby ambulance, a public housing authority camera, a police mobile video station, and bystanders’ cellphone videos captured parts of the incident. The two officers involved in the shooting – Mark Ringgenberg and Dustin Schwarze – were placed on leave pending an investigation.
“Our community is in a great deal of pain as a result of the shooting of Jamar Clark at the hands of the Minneapolis Police Department,” Nekima Levy-Pounds, president of the NAACP Minneapolis, said in a statement. “It’s imperative that we demand accountability and transparency, which includes being able to gain access to the video footage of this tragic incident.”
Although the city of Minneapolis paid out $14 million for alleged police misconduct between 2006 and 2012, the Minneapolis Police Department rarely ruled against any officers. In its first 439 cases, the conduct-review office did not discipline a single cop accused of misconduct.
After joining forces with the NAACP and Black Lives Matter Minneapolis last year, the ACLU of Minnesota demanded that state officials cease suppressing the videos of Clark’s death. On Tuesday, the ACLU and NAACP filed a lawsuit against the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, BCA Superintendent Drew Evans, and the state Department of Public Safety in an attempt to release the footage to the public.
During an interview with the Star Tribune, Charles Samuelson, director of the Minnesota chapter of the ACLU, acknowledged that “the police have tremendous authority, including the ability to use reasonable force.” But at the same time, he continued, “it’s entirely consistent with our democratic values for the public to demand government accountability and transparency when police use force, especially if it results in a life being taken.”
Refusing to release the videos of Clark’s death merely affirms the public’s distrust of police and state officials. In their complaint, the ACLU and NAACP wrote, “The police killing of Jamar Clark laid bare the broken relationship that exists between the Minneapolis Police Department and the community it serves, particularly its relationship with people and communities of color in Minneapolis. Secrecy and lack of transparency has served to deepen the chasm between police and the community by reinforcing the community’s fear that police will not be held accountable for their acts of misconduct.
“The withheld videos may shed significant light on the numerous witness accounts of the incident that state that Clark was restrained when he was shot to death by the police. The public has heard vastly divergent accounts about what occurred – that Clark was handcuffed or otherwise restrained when he was shot in the head and that Clark had his hand on an officer’s weapon when he was shot. These divergent accounts have served to further divide the community. The withheld videos may help the community to come to a collective understanding about what occurred the night that Jamar Clark was killed.”