Eric Litke, USA TODAY
Published 12:06 p.m. ET Aug. 28, 2020 | Updated 7:57 p.m. ET Aug. 28, 2020
Jacob Blake was shot by Wisconsin police responding to a domestic incident, according to the Kenosha Police Department.
Facebook InfoSnip Claim: Jacob Blake had a warrant for sexual assault and prior convictions for gun use.
When Kenosha, Wisconsin, police shot a Black man in the back seven times, it launched a now all-too-familiar avalanche of reaction.
And an online rush to judgment fueled by each poster’s preexisting position on social justice and the Black Lives Matter movement.
Police shot Jacob Blake, 29, on Aug. 23 as he attempted to get into a small SUV with his three sons inside while officers aimed guns at him, according to officials and a bystander’s video of the incident that has been virally shared. Blake survived, but his family’s attorney said he is paralyzed from the waist down.
There are more questions than answers about what happened before the video was taken. Some of that may not be known for months, until an outside review by the state Department of Justice is completed.
But we can address Blake’s background, which many on social media have used to suggest as evidence that he is to blame for what happened.
An Aug. 24, a Facebook post shared thousands of times asserts Blake “had an active warrant for domestic violence and sexual assault” and “has prior criminal convictions for illegal gun use.”
Such allegations are a common and patently unfair response to tragic events that need to be corrected, said Daniel Medwed, professor of law and criminal justice at Northeastern University School of Law.
Attacks on a victim’s actions and background can impact both the court of public opinion and the ensuing criminal court actions, he said.
“You’re fighting in two different courts basically with a high-profile case, and victim-blaming can ‘help’ with both,” Medwed said. “The narrative seems to always be about the danger posed by the victim, to basically create a sentiment that police were in danger. … The implication from that is that because there’s something bad about their character they somehow deserved what they got, which is patently absurd and absolutely disgusting.”
Here’s what we know about Blake’s past contact with law enforcement.
Facebook InfoSnip One open case had warrants
The first part of this claim is largely accurate.
Blake was charged July 6 with felony third-degree sexual assault and misdemeanor trespassing and disorderly conduct. All three offenses carried a penalty enhancer because they were connected to domestic abuse.
The charges — which have not gone to trial — stem from a May 3 incident in Kenosha County. A woman Blake knew told police he came into her house about 6 a.m., sexually assaulted her and then took a debit card and car keys before fleeing in her vehicle, according to a criminal complaint. Contrary to many social media claims, the woman involved in this case was an adult.
A warrant for Blake’s arrest was filed the day after the criminal complaint, online court records show.
Police radio traffic explains officers were dispatched for “family trouble,” and a dispatcher named Blake as taking the caller’s keys and refusing to give them back. A dispatcher used the police code 10-99 while sending officers, alerting them to Blake’s warrant.
Facebook InfoSnip Charges, but no conviction for gun use
The second element of the claim is wrong. Blake was charged with a gun-related offense in 2015, but he was not convicted.
The Facebook post offered as proof a Sept. 22, 2015, article from the Racine County Eye website. It described charges being filed, but did not reference a conviction.
Our review of court records shows a confrontation at a Racine County, Wisconsin, bar led to a combative traffic stop and a total of five criminal charges in September 2015, including resisting an officer, disorderly conduct and three gun-related ones.
But those charges were later dismissed on a motion from prosecutors, said Racine County Clerk of Circuit Court Samuel Christensen. The court file said it was dismissed in February 2018 “due to witness issues and age of case.”
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After this fact-check published, the Facebook page that posted the claim edited the post to note the error and correct the reference to a conviction.
Since more than two years has passed since the case was dismissed, it is no longer visible via online court records, per a Wisconsin Supreme Court rule.
Facebook InfoSnip Our ruling: Partly false
We rate this claim PARTLY FALSE based on our research. It is true that Blake did have an active warrant for sexual assault and several other crimes related to domestic violence at the time he was shot. But Blake not convicted of any prior gun offenses. Charges filed in 2015 were ultimately dismissed at the request of prosecutors.
Facebook InfoSnip Our fact-check sources
- Facebook post, Aug. 24
- Wisconsin Circuit Court Access, Kenosha County Case 2020CF736, filed July 6,
- Email exchange with Sam Christenson, Racine County clerk of circuit court, Aug. 25-26
- Criminal complaint, Racine County case 2015CF1391, filed Sept. 21
- Criminal complaint, Racine County case 2016CF990, filed June 20
- Criminal complaint, Kenosha County case 2020CF736, filed July 6
- Racine County Eye, Sept. 22, 2015,Police: K9 Dozer Helps Subdue Man Who Pulled Gun at Bar
- Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Aug. 25, Jacob Blake was shot less than 3 minutes after Wisconsin police arrived at the scene, according to dispatch audio
- Wisconsin Circuit Court Access, accessed Aug. 26, Frequently Asked Questions
- Email exchange with James Palmer, executive director, Wisconsin Professional Police Association, Aug. 25
- Interview with Daniel Meded, professor of law and criminal justice at Northeastern University School of Law, Aug. 27
Contact Eric Litke at (414) 225-5061 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @ericlitke.
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