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Background

Recently, Jacob Blake of Kenosha, Wisconsin was shot in the back 4 times by police officer Rusten Sheskey while the officers were attempting to arrest Blake over a domestic violence dispute. When talking to Wisconsin state investigators later, Jacob Blake admitted to investigators that he did have a knife in his possession as stated by Attorney General Joshua Kaul:

Kaul says Blake had a knife. "Mr. Blake admitted he had a knife in his possession and DCI agents recovered a knife on the driver's side floorboards of Mr. Blake's vehicle."

However, the shooting committed by Officer Rusten has caused unrest in the area of Kenosha, Wisconsin, given the concurrent resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement at the time of the shooting. It is the fact of the knife as well as the strong response that has encouraged me to ask the following question:

Question

Given the presence of the knife in addition to the officers attempting to arrest Jacob Blake for a domestic violence dispute, was that enough justification for the 7 shots (4 of which hit Blake) as a reasonable response by Officer Rusten Sheskey?

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    The only way to answer this, in my opinion, is through the process of court. We can argue both ways, from the point of view of a prosecutor or a defendant, but we'll only have an answer is after the court makes a ruling. Just having a knife isn't justification, the argument is the perceived threat to the officer or the public.
    – Ron Beyer
    Aug 27 '20 at 15:02
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    What I read is that the knife was found In the dead man’s car only later. So that would be a perceived threat by a weapon that nobody knew about.
    – gnasher729
    Aug 27 '20 at 15:23
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    @gnasher729 A knife was found after the shooting, however it doesn't mean that the officers didn't know he had it. He was told to "drop the knife" multiple times before he was shot, so at least the officers involved knew he had it.
    – Ron Beyer
    Aug 27 '20 at 15:48
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The mere presence of a weapon is probably not, on its own, justification to shoot the possessor. Ultimately, the actions will be judged under the totality of the circumstances related to the shooting. I want to be as neutral as possible here in sharing the information that has thus far come to light but nowhere has "the presence of a melee weapon" been used as justification for the police shooting. This shooting may be found, after an investigation, to be unjustified or it may be found to be justified. Here is some of the information available.

The report issued by Wisconsin Attorney General Joshua Kaul has additional information:

Kenosha Police Department officers were dispatched to a residence in the 2800 block of 40th Street after a female caller reported that her boyfriend was present and was not supposed to be on the premises.

Although the statement from the Attorney General doesn't mention a restraining order filed against Mr. Blake, the criminal complaint filed by an Assistant District Attorney on July 7, 2020 seems to indicate that Mr. Blake had waived the necessity of a restraining order and agreed to stay away from the property. An arrest warrant had been issued based on the criminal complaint. Police officers are trained to be extra cautious when approaching individuals subject to felony arrests.

The Attorney General stated:

During the incident, officers attempted to arrest Jacob S. Blake, age 29. Law enforcement deployed a taser to attempt to stop Mr. Blake, however the taser was not successful in stopping Mr. Blake. Mr. Blake walked around his vehicle, opened the driver’s side door, and leaned forward.

There are reported witness statements from Raysean White that the police repeatedly told Mr. Blake to "drop the knife." No witnesses, that we currently know of, have come forward to say if Mr. Blake was holding the knife that was reportedly found on the floorboard.

Also from the Attorney General report:

During the investigation following the initial incident, Mr. Blake admitted that he had a knife in his possession. DCI agents recovered a knife from the driver’s side floorboard of Mr. Blake’s vehicle. A search of the vehicle located no additional weapons.

Under Wisconsin law, it is a felony to resist arrest while armed with a dangerous weapon or threatening to use a dangerous weapon whether or not the arrestee has a dangerous weapon.

All of the above information, along with any other information gathered from the investigation being conducted by the Wisconsin Division of Criminal Investigation will be used to determine if the use of deadly force was reasonable. It would be unreasonable to draw a conclusion either way regarding the use of deadly force with the limited information available to us. It is not unusual, though, to see the use of deadly force, or the threatened use of deadly force, when an arrestee physically resists arrest.

Your ultimate question as to whether or not seven shots were justified is much more difficult to answer. If we assume that the use of deadly force was justified, a fact currently undetermined, it is much more difficult to say that too many shots were fired. A properly trained police officer will be taught to shoot until the threat justifying the use of force is neutralized. The Attorney General's report states:

While holding onto Mr. Blake’s shirt, Officer Rusten Sheskey fired his service weapon 7 times.

and further states:

No other officer fired their weapon. Kenosha Police Department does not have body cameras, therefore the officers were not wearing body cameras.

It is possible that only Officer Sheskey knows if seven shots were justified. It's possible that Officer Sheskey was affected by adrenaline and shot more times than necessary and it's also possible that Officer Sheskey shot until he no longer perceived Mr. Blake to be a threat.

It is not possible, today, to answer your question about the reasonableness of seven shots and it's possible that it will never be answerable.

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    Officer Sheskey cannot know if seven shots were justified, he can know what his state of mind was, and that fact may or may not suffice to allow a legal fact-finder to conclude that the force was justified under Wisconsin law.
    – user6726
    Aug 27 '20 at 15:34
  • user6726 - Good point. There's a good chance that Officer Sheskey didn't even knew how many shots he fired until he was told afterwords.
    – Dave D
    Aug 27 '20 at 22:23

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