Prosecutors have dropped a sexual assault charge against Jacob Blake, the 29-year-old Black man who was shot seven times by a white police officer outside a child's birthday party in Kenosha, Wisconsin in August.
Blake, who was partially paralyzed after he was shot as he opened the driver's door to his SUV, appeared via Zoom in Kenosha County Circuit Court on Friday with his legal team. Prosecutors agreed to remove one count of third-degree sexual assault in exchange for Blake pleading guilty to two disorderly conduct charges, according to the New York Times.
Speaking to Judge Bruce E. Schroeder, Blake insisted he is not guilty and stated that he took the plea deal in order to be reunited with his family.
“Honestly, your honor, although I pled guilty to this, I don’t consider myself to be guilty,” Blake told the court, The Kenosha News reported. “I pretty much took this opportunity to get to see my children quicker.”
Schroeder then sentenced Blake to a two-year probationary term.
The dropped charge stemmed from a May incident in which a woman accused Blake of sexual assault. Prosecutors, however, acknowledged they were eager to make the plea deal with Blake, largely because his accuser wasn’t cooperating.
“This was an agreement reached partly because the victim in this matter was not responsive to the subpoena to appear in court,” Walworth County District Attorney Zeke Wiedenfeld, who is acting as a special prosecutor in the case, told the Kenosha News.
Wiedenfeld said Blake’s accuser stopped returning his office's messages in May. He also said that she had walked back her accusations after first reporting the alleged assault to law enforcement.
Prosecutors also noted Blake’s accuser had repeatedly phoned police alleging she was the victim of domestic violence a number of times in the past, dating back to 2016. In one instance, the woman accused Blake of punching and strangling her. Those allegations were never proven in court.
Blake was also accused of pulling out a pistol at a Wisconsin bar in 2015, Wiedenfeld said — but he has no previous adult convictions, according to his defense lawyer Patrick Cafferty.
“There have been allegations made in the past, absolutely none of which have led to conviction,” Cafferty told the court, according to the Kenosha News. “He comes to you with no adult record whatsoever.”
Cafferty described Blake, who was released from the hospital in October, as a dedicated father who will be affected by the injuries from the shooting for the rest of his life.
“He has a severe spinal cord injury and the expectation is that he will be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his days,” Cafferty added. “Anyone who meets with him is struck by the amount of pain he is in on a regular basis.”
Speaking for the first time since the police shooting, Blake appeared in a video shared on social media in September in which he described his agonizing recovery.
“I got staples in my back, staples in my damn stomach,” Blake said in the video, which was uploaded to civil rights lawyer Ben Crump’s Twitter account. “You do not want to have to deal with this s--t, man. Every 24 hours, it’s pain [...] It hurts to breathe, it hurts to sleep, it hurts to move from side to side, it hurts to eat.”
Blake checked into a spinal rehabilitation center in Chicago in October. His family confirmed to Kenosha News that they’ve found a wheelchair-accessible property for him to move into once his recovery concludes.
Blake was shot several times on Aug. 23 while reportedly attending a children’s birthday party in Kenosha. Authorities stated they were dispatched to the residence after a woman “reported that her boyfriend was present and was not supposed to be on the premises.”
Officer Rusten Sheskey was later identified as the Kenosha officer who shot Blake in the back seven times. Sheskey, along with officers Vincent Arenas and Brittany Meronek, has been placed on administrative leave. No charges have been filed against them in Blake’s shooting.
Police later seized a knife from the floorboard of Blake’s vehicle. It’s unclear, however, how or if the blade factored into Sheskey’s decision to fire at Blake. Kenosha’s police union has denied Sheskey or other officers involved in the incident acted negligently.
Video of the disturbing police shooting, which has since gone viral, was captured by bystanders — Kenosha police are not required to wear body cameras.
In August, the Department of Justice opened a formal civil rights investigation into the shooting.
Blake’s shooting, which followed the shooting death of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May, ignited scores of protests around the U.S. — some of which turned violent. In late August, Kyle Rittenhouse, a suspected 17-year-old militia member, allegedly opened fire on Black Lives Matter protesters in Kenosha, killing two. The teen is now facing first-degree intentional homicide charges.
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