The police officer who shot Jacob Blake in the back seven times last month has told investigators he thought Mr Blake was trying to abduct one of his own children and opened fire because he started turning towards the officer while holding a knife, his lawyer has said.
Brendan Matthews, the lawyer for Officer Rusten Sheskey and the Kenosha police union, told CNN that when Mr Sheskey arrived at the scene on August 23 in response to a call from a woman who said Mr Blake was at her home and should not be there, he heard a woman say: “He’s got my kid. He’s got my keys.”
Mr Sheskey saw Mr Blake put a child in the SUV as he arrived, but he did not know that two other children were also in the backseat, Mr Matthews said.
The lawyer said Mr Sheskey told investigators he opened fire because Mr Blake “held a knife in his hand and twisted his body toward” the officer, and that he did not stop until he determined Mr Blake “no longer posed an imminent threat”.
Mr Matthews said if Mr Sheskey had allowed Mr Blake to leave and something had happened to the child, “the question would have been ‘why didn’t you do something?’”.
Mobile phone video captured by a bystander and posted online shows Mr Sheskey and another officer follow Mr Blake with their guns drawn as he walks around the front of the parked SUV, opens the driver’s side door and lean into the vehicle. Mr Sheskey, who is white, then opens fire, hitting the black man seven times and leaving him paralysed from the waist down, according to his family members and lawyer.
The shooting sparked outrage and led to several nights of protests and unrest, including a night in which authorities say an Illinois 17-year-old shot and killed two protesters and wounded a third.
Ben Crump, a lawyer for Mr Blake’s family, did not immediately respond to Mr Matthews’s interview but he has previously said that Mr Blake was only trying to break up a domestic dispute that day and that he did nothing to provoke police, adding that witnesses did not see him with a knife.
Mr Blake’s uncle, Justin Blake, said on Saturday that the allegation that Mr Blake was attempting to kidnap his own child was false, the Kenosha News reported.
“That’s ridiculous,” Justin Blake said. “It’s gaslighting. Outright lies.”
The bystander who recorded the shooting, 22-year-old Raysean White, said he saw Mr Blake scuffling with three officers and heard them yell, “Drop the knife! Drop the knife!”, before gunfire broke out. Mr White said he did not see a knife in Mr Blake’s hands.
The Wisconsin Department of Justice, which is leading the investigation, previously said in a news release that a knife was found in the vehicle, but it did not say whether Mr Blake had been holding it at any point during the confrontation or whether police knew it was there before Mr Sheskey shot him.
In a statement previously released by Mr Matthews on behalf of the police union, the lawyer said Mr Blake was armed with a knife but that officers did not see it until Mr Blake reached the passenger side of the vehicle. As Mr Blake opened the driver’s door of the SUV, Mr Sheskey pulled on Mr Blake’s shirt and then opened fire. Three of Mr Blake’s children were in the backseat.
The mother of the three children, who called police that day, filed a complaint against Mr Blake that had led to charges being filed in July accusing him of sexually assaulting a woman in May. Mr Blake, who was wanted on a warrant for those charges when police arrived at the scene on August 23, pleaded not guilty to the charges earlier this month via video from from his hospital bed. A trial date was set for November 9.
Mr Sheskey and the other two officers who were at the scene were placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation.