KENOSHA, Wisconsin—The police officer who shot Jacob Blake seven times in the back, unleashing fiery outrage and triggering a federal civil rights probe, was identified Wednesday night as Rusten Sheskey, a seven-year veteran who claims Blake was armed with a knife.
In his first update on the shooting since a brief statement this weekend, state Attorney General Josh Kaul gave law enforcement’s account of how the Sunday evening confrontation in Kenosha unfolded.
He said officers were dispatched to a home where a woman reported that a boyfriend was present and wasn’t supposed to be there. Officers attempted to arrest Blake, 29, and deployed a Taser to no effect, Kaul said. Blake walked around his car, opened the driver’s side door, and leaned forward, according to Kaul. While holding Blake’s shirt, Sheskey fired seven times.
The Wisconsin Department of Justice claimed Blake admitted that he had a knife, and Department of Criminal Investigation agents recovered a knife from the driver’s side floorboard of his vehicle, according to Kaul.
Kaul didn’t make it clear if Blake was the same person who turned up at the woman’s house, but Ben Crump, an attorney for Blake’s family, has previously said Blake stopped his car to interrupt a fight when he was accosted by officers and shot in front of his kids. Crump also said Blake didn’t have a weapon on him.
Video of Sheskey grabbing the back of Blake’s shirt as he fired bullet after bullet at close range went viral on Sunday, prompting protests that were punctuated by violence—police firing tear gas to disperse crowds and a gunman, allegedly a 17-year-old “Blue Lives Matter” fan—killing two people on Tuesday night.
As President Trump threatened to send in troops to quell unrest, and the U.S. Department of Justice said a federal civil rights investigation had been opened, details of Sheskey’s background emerged.
On at least two social media accounts, Sheskey used as his profile image a black and white flag with a single blue stripe—a totem of pro-cop solidarity in the face of public criticism over brutal police violence.
A post on one social media account bearing his name said, “I’D RATHER BE JUDGED BY 12 THAN CARRIED BY 6.”
A Flickr account belonging to Sheskey, the son of a teacher, shows that he participated in the 2011 labor-backed protests against then-Gov. Scott Walker’s efforts to repeal collective bargaining rights for most public employee unions.
In an interview with a local news site last year about being part of the Kenosha P.D.’s bike unit, Sheskey said he’d always wanted to be a cop.
“What I like most is that you’re dealing with people on perhaps the worst day of their lives and you can try and help them as much as you can and make that day a little bit better,” he told Kenosha News.
“And that, for the most part, people trust us to do that for them. And it’s a huge responsibility, and I really like trying to help the people. We may not be able to make a situation right, or better, but we can maybe make it a little easier for them to handle during that time.”
Sheskey was sued for $50,000 in 2015 after he allegedly made an illegal left-hand turn in his police car, hitting a teenage girl driving a Jeep. She said in her complaint that she suffered head, neck, and back injuries. The lawsuit was resolved out of court and later dismissed, but he pleaded no contest to a failure to signal charge, according to court records.
According to the Journal-Times, Sheskey was detailed to the site of alleged hate crimes while serving as a cop at the University of Wisconsin—Parkside in 2012. After a student reported finding a rubber-band noose in their dorm, fliers emerged with the names of Black students and threats against their lives. Additional university police were brought in as a special detail in connection with the incident, Sheskey apparently among them.
Sheskey attended the college himself, according to a LinkedIn profile matching his name.
On Wednesday evening, things remained calm in downtown Kenosha, with protesters marching until after midnight despite a new 7 p.m. curfew, without a cop in sight. But residents were far from satisfied that Sheskey’s name was finally public.
“It’s still not acceptable, they need to identify all cops involved,” 18-year-old Kenosha native Joyful Garringer told The Daily Beast.
“It’s like they’re trying to make themselves look better,” she continued. “Like, ‘Oh yeah, we have the cop.’ No, we want all the cops.”
About ten minutes past curfew, a clutch of county sheriffs approached protesters, striking a parked car in the process, and emerged from their vehicle, guns drawn.
Two people had driven a U-haul to Civic Center Park, filled with water and medical supplies. Sheriffs stopped the vehicle, threatening arrest, and then drove the U-haul away, taking all the supplies with it.