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Jacob Blake, left paralyzed by cop shooting, has damage claims rejected by Kenosha

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The Kenosha, Wis. City Council has denied a claim for damages from Jacob Blake, a black man who was left paralyzed from the chest down after he was shot by a white city police officer last summer.

Under state law, claims such as his are capped at $50,000, but Blake’s attorneys sought “special damages” in the amount of nearly $777,000 for lost wages, medical fees, and “pain and suffering and disfigurement” due to his injuries, his petition read.

Without further comment, Blake’s claim was rejected unanimously, by a 17-0 vote, according to local reports.

Blake was shot several times in the back Aug. 23 by Officer Rusten Sheskey as he prepared to climb into an SUV. Blake’s medical records, which were included in his claim filed with the city, show that he suffered a slew of injuries that included gunshots “to the abdomen, back, left flank, left chest and upper extremities, a kidney laceration, “traumatic burst” of the lumbar vertebra, pedicle fractures of the lumbar with retained bullet fragments and a lacerated spleen, among others,” Madison.com reported.

John Morrissey, the city administrator, said the claim was the initial step to a possible lawsuit, though he said he isn’t certain Blake will file one.

“This is just a claim. I don’t know whether they’ll file a state lawsuit,” he said Thursday. “The maximum exposure for a municipality is $50,000.”

Earlier this year, Blake filed a civil federal lawsuit against Sheskey, who is the lone defendant. Because he was acting in his capacity as a police officer, Morrissey said the city was picking up the tab for his representation.

The suit seeks an unspecified amount to cover Blake’s injuries and a “substantial sum” of money from Sheskey in punitive damages.

“The federal civil rights suit is being pursued, and the potential state claim, essentially the same cause of action with caps on damages, would be superfluous of it. We are considering options,” said Blake’s legal team.

Kenosha County District Attorney Michael Graveley cleared Sheskey in a subsequent investigation of the shooting, noting that Blake was armed with a knife at the time he was shot. Graveley said he couldn’t find any evidence to disprove the officer’s claim that he felt his life was in danger when he pulled the trigger.

Video evidence uncovered in the days after the incident shows Blake tussling with officers on the ground before managing to escape their grip. Seconds after Blake escaped the grip of at least two officers, they drew their weapons as he made his way around the front of the vehicle, ignoring their commands to stop. As he opened the door to the vehicle, Sheskey opened fire.

From the hospital, Blake told police investigators that he was armed with a knife when he was shot, though several media reports claimed at the time that he was unarmed.

The Justice Department, which also investigated the shooting, said that officers were called to the scene by a woman — then Blake’s girlfriend — because he “was present and was not supposed to be on the premises.”

Officers initially employed a taser in an attempt to subdue Blake but it was ultimately ineffective.

“During the investigation following the initial incident, Mr. Blake admitted that he had a knife in his possession,” said the Justice Department at the time. Investigators “recovered a knife from the driver’s side floorboard of Mr. Blake’s vehicle.”

Jon Dougherty

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