The Minneapolis City Council on Friday signed off on a $200,000 settlement to the family of Jamar Clark, bringing to an end an emotional chapter in the city's history of police-community relations.
After briefly retreating to a closed session to finalize the deal, Council President Lisa Bender opened the room to reporters and went around the table asking her colleagues whether they supported the settlement. The final vote was unanimous.
Then, one by one, council members and City Attorney Susan Segal quietly filed out a back door without addressing assembled reporters and photographers. Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, who was also in attendance, declined to comment as he left.
Clark, who was black, was killed in a November 2015 confrontation with two white police officers on the city's North Side, an incident that heightened racial tensions and prompted a weekslong encampment outside a nearby police station. According to the investigation, officer Mark Ringgenberg wrestled Clark to the ground when he felt the man grab onto his gun, and he yelled for his partner Dustin Schwarze to shoot Clark. Schwarze told investigators that he fired the fatal shot after warning Clark to let go of Ringgenberg's gun. The officers were later cleared of criminal wrongdoing in local and federal probes.
In 2017, the family sued the officers and the city in federal court, claiming the officers had wrongfully caused Clark's death. Schwarze was later dropped as a defendant after his use of deadly force was deemed justified. The case languished until this spring when a federal judge prodded both sides into a monthslong mediation process.
In an e-mail sent Friday, U.S. District Judge Michael Davis thanked the parties involved for working hard to reach an agreement, acknowledging "the dedication and work expended by them to reach a settlement in this difficult case."
The council previously rejected a five-figure settlement with Clark's family. At the time, Council Member Phillipe Cunningham said in a social media post that the offer was "way too low." On the same day, the council approved a $20 million settlement in the death of Justine Ruszczyk Damond, an Australian woman who was fatally shot by a Minneapolis police officer who responded to her 911 call. The since-fired officer, Mohamed Noor, is serving a 12-year prison sentence after being convicted of second-degree manslaughter and third-degree murder.
Under the terms of the Clark settlement, his father, James, and his attorneys will receive $200,000. After lawyers' fees and court expenses, 80% of the remaining money will be distributed among eight relatives: Emma Burns, Danielle Burns, Eddie Sutton, Tiffany Roberson, Kimberly Burns, Javon Sutton, Javille Sutton and Demario Reid. Family members previously said through a lawyer that they agreed with the amount but had hoped the lawsuit would bring sweeping changes.
The settlement agreement makes no admission of wrongdoing.
A message left for the police union wasn't immediately returned on Friday afternoon, and a Minneapolis police spokesperson said the union typically doesn't comment on legal matters.
On Friday, news of the council's approval was met with a combination of relief and skepticism.
Bishop Richard Howell said the shooting will be looked back on as a defining moment in the city's history of race relations.
"I've been here all my life, and the Jamar Clark case really did something. It was seminal for the city, and the way that the police handled it — it all became a learning curve," said Howell, pastor at Shiloh Temple International Ministries, which hosted Clark's funeral. "Sometimes it takes an unfortunate sacrifice to bring change, but I think it really heightened as well as deepened" the conversation around police use of force, he said.
Twin Cities Coalition for Justice 4 Jamar, a loose coalition of police reform activists, said in a statement that it would keep pushing for greater accountability, while saying the settlement was further proof of the unequal treatment of black men in the criminal justice system.
"The low amount, 1% compared to the one reached for Justine Damond and the protracted legal battle demonstrates the injustice for black, brown and indigenous people when they are killed by police," said Loretta VanPelt, one of the group's organizers. "The family and community will keep fighting for justice by any means necessary."
On Friday, a handful of activists showed up to the council meeting, but all but one of them left before the settlement vote.
The settlement came a week after the first meeting of a recently convened work group on police use of deadly force led by Attorney General Keith Ellison and Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington. A second hearing, set for Sept. 28, will focus on prevention, training, officer wellness and community healing.
Mayor Jacob Frey said in a statement that he agreed with the council's decision.
"The tragic events that unfolded the night of November 15, 2015, catalyzed important and lasting reform in Minneapolis," he said. "And while no amount of money can make Jamar's family whole, I know that this decision was shaped by a common belief that we can and must do better by our community."
Libor Jany • 612-673-4064 Twitter: @StribJany