The August 2020 shooting in Kenosha, Wisconsin, left Jacob Blake paralyzed

By Jeff Truesdell
March 26, 2021 12:36 PM
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Jacob Blake
Jacob Blake
| Credit: Handout

Jacob Blake, a Black man left paralyzed in a shooting last year captured on viral video that sparked protests over police brutality and racial injustice, has filed a federal civil rights complaint against the white police officer who pulled the trigger.

The complaint, filed Thursday, follows the decision in January by Kenosha County, Wisc., District Attorney Michael Graveley to not charge the officer, Rusten Sheskey.

Blake was shot several times in front of his children on Aug. 23 after Kenosha officers responded to a call about a domestic incident at a gathering attended by Blake to celebrate his son's 8th birthday, according to the complaint obtained by PEOPLE.

The widely shared bystander video showed two officers following Blake, one with his gun raised and pointed, as Blake walks away from them and prepares to enter his Dodge SUV. When Blake moves around the front of the vehicle, then opens the driver's side door and leans inside, at least seven gunshots are heard.

Rusten Sheskey of Kenosha Police Department
Rusten Sheskey
| Credit: Kenosha Police Department

In rejecting criminal charges, the district attorney said Sheskey, who fired the shots, could successfully argue self-defense in front a jury. Gravely said his decision was based on evidence that could not be seen in the cellphone video of the incident.

"It's really evidence about the perspective of Officer Sheskey at each moment, and what would a reasonable officer do at each moment," Graveley said at a Jan. 5 news conference. "Almost none of those things are answered in that deeply disturbing video that we've all seen. Officer Sheskey felt he was about to be stabbed."

Blake's attorneys counter that Blake made no physical or verbal threats toward Sheskey or two other officers on the scene, and that he repeatedly attempted to disengage by walking away from the officers.

"As evidenced in the video and set forth in the complaint, Mr. Blake had a folding knife on his person as he was being attacked, though he never brandished or threatened to use the knife at any time," Blake's attorneys said in a statement to PEOPLE. "After Mr. Blake dropped the folding knife onto the floor of the SUV and as he sat down in the driver's seat, Officer Sheskey began firing his gun with one hand, as he pulled Jacob by the shirt with the other."

Kenosha police later said they were trying to arrest Blake on an outstanding sexual assault warrant during the tussle when Sheskey fired the shots. The alleged sexual assault charges -- which stemmed from an incident months earlier -- subsequently were dropped, reports Wisconsin Public Radio.

Six of the seven shots struck Blake, with at least one severing his spinal cord, says the federal complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin. The seventh shot struck the side door or the SUV, according to the filing.

The shooting unfolded with two of Blake's kids, ages 5 and 8, in the back seat of the SUV.

Jacob Blake
Jacob Blake
| Credit: Ben Crump/Twitter

"While Jacob Blake survived being shot six times, his devastating injuries are permanent and life-changing," one of his attorneys, Patrick A. Salvi II, said in a statement.

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"The bullet that severed Jacob's spinal cord has left him paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair," said Salvi. "Jacob now suffers from an intractable pain syndrome. After various surgical procedures and an agonizing course of physical rehabilitation, Jacob remains unable to return to his job as a security guard and relies on others to assist him with the basic needs of daily living."

In protests that followed the incident, two people were killed during a demonstration Aug. 25 in Kenosha and the suspect, then-17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse, was subsequently charged with homicide. He has pleaded not guilty.

The protests followed earlier demonstrations across the country over the killings of other Black people including George FloydBreonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery.

A criminal defense lawyer for Sheskey referred questions about the new complaint to Sheskey's civil lawyer, who could not immediately be reached for comment, reports WISN.

The civil rights complaint, which names only Sheskey as defendant and requests a jury trial, seeks unspecified damages.