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Clark shooting: Feds launch probe, ME report released

Federal agencies agree to launch civil rights investigation in fatal police shooting of a black Minneapolis man.
Credit: Kenya McKnight
Jamar Clark

MINNEAPOLIS - Federal agencies have agreed to launch a civil rights investigation into the fatal shooting of a black Minneapolis man by police during a scuffle.

Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges had requested the probe. The federal investigation will be conducted by the FBI and will be concurrent to an investigation by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, or BCA.

Twenty-four-year-old Jamar ONeal Clark died Monday evening, a day after he was shot by police during an early-morning dispute.

In a statement, federal authorities asked for cooperation from any witnesses and urged calm during the investigation.

The Hennepin County Medical Examiner's Office says Clark died of a gunshot wound to the head. The statement from the coroner listed the manner of death as "homicide."

And while that very word created a buzz in social media Tuesday evening, experts consulted by KARE said it was not surprising to see that in the report. 

Ramsey County Attorney John Choi and veteran criminal defense lawyer Earl Gray both said the term "homicide" in coroner's reports applies to all killings, including accidents and those slayings later ruled to be justified by self-defense. The term "homicide" in the lingo of medical examiners is not interchangeable with the word "murder" -- it does not convey intent or motive.

Protesters involved in the Black Lives Matter movement Tuesday demanded that authorities share more evidence, including surveillance video collected from businesses and homes.  They also asked investigators to release the names of the officers involved in Clark's arrest and killing.

"We'll identify the officers once they've been interviewed and we'll provide additional information at that time," Drew Evans, the BCA superintendent, told reporters.

Evans said investigators hoped to interview the officers in the coming days.

There are many due process protections built into state law for officers accused of misconduct or crimes. The Minnesota Peace Officers Bill of Rights allows officers to have attorneys and union representatives on hand, and it permits officers to defer making any comments on the records until a formal complaint has been lodged.

Criminal attorney Fred Bruno confirmed Tuesday evening that he is representing the two officers.

Evans, when asked if he could confirm that Clark was unarmed at the time he was shot, simply said that no weapons were found at the scene other than the officer's guns.

According to Evans there are no police dash cam videos or body cam videos from the incident. And he said the surveillance camera footage doesn't show the incident in its entirety. So far no citizen videos have surfaced, but many witnesses have contacted the BCA offering to give personal accounts.

Some witnesses said Clark was already handcuffed when he was shot. Police initially said he was not handcuffed, but authorities later said handcuffs were at the scene and they were trying to determine whether Clark was restrained.

"There were handcuffs at the scene at the time, and we're still examining whether or not they were on Mister Clark or whether they just fell out at the scene. That's what we're trying to discern," Evans explained.

According to law enforcement sources the protocol in some police agencies is to handcuff suspects after they've been shot, as a precaution. It is not known yet whether that occurred in Clark's case.

"But the reality is whether he was handcuffed or not,  how can we possibly justify an officer shooting him in the head when he was already on the ground?" Nekima Levy-Pounds of the Minneapolis NAACP told KARE. "There's simply no justification for that."

Levy-Pounds, an attorney who teaches at the University of Saint Thomas Law School, was among those who took part in the Black Lives Matter protest Monday night that blocked traffic on Interstate 94. She was among those who chose to stay and be arrested and jailed, rather than disperse when the Minnesota State Patrol arrived.

 "As African Americans, generally speaking, it's very difficult for us to trust a system that has not been effective at meting out justice when it comes to officer involved shootings," she remarked.  "We are tired of being killed at the hands of the police, and seeing a lack of accountability within the system."

Meantime, protesters held a "healing session" outside the Minneapolis Police Dept. 4th precinct Tuesday night. More than 100 people attended the event organized by Black Lives Matter.

"We're not waiting for a grand jury, we're going to be out here every night so be it until we get names, we want transparency," said protester Yaree Watford.

Protesters have effectively closed Plymouth Avenue – tents and fires are lending the aire of a growing campsite.

Michael McDowell of Black Lives Matter was among those arrested in the I-94 protest Monday night. He would not rule out another freeway disruption – but hinted other plans are cooking.

"It may be something bigger than that next time, because we're actually thinking 'what does it look like to escalate?"

The message Tuesday night? They are not going way.