August 27, 2020

If your time is short

  • On Aug. 23, Jacob Blake, a Black man, was shot by a white police officer in Kenosha, Wis. Blake survived, but is partially paralyzed from a bullet that severed his spinal cord.
  • On the third night of protests over the shooting, two people were killed and one injured after police say someone opened fire with an assault-style weapon.
  • Several widely shared posts on social media make inaccurate, misleading or unproven claims about Blake, his interaction with police and the events that followed.

Two people were killed on Aug. 25 and one was injured during a third night of protests over the shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man who was shot by a white police officer in Kenosha, Wis.

Ben Crump, a civil rights lawyer who is representing Blake’s family, posted on Twitter a recording of Blake being shot. It shows Blake walking away from two police officers who are pointing guns at the 29-year-old, and then one shooting him in the back as Blake opened the door of a car where three of his children sat in the back, according to news reports.

The footage has spurred unrest at a time when Americans have been protesting racial injustice following the fatal shooting of George Floyd, 46, who was killed by a white police officer in Minneapolis in May.

The Wisconsin Division of Criminal Investigation is investigating Blake’s shooting. It said on Aug. 26 that police office Rusten Sheskey fired his weapon seven times. Sheskey has been a law enforcement officer with Kenosha Police Department for seven years.

Police say that Blake was shot while officers responded to a domestic incident. Raysean White, who recorded the shooting, said that he saw officers struggling with Blake before he grabbed his camera, according to CNN. The Wisconsin Division of Criminal Investigation said Blake told officers he had a knife in his possession, and police found a knife on the driver’s side floorboard of Blake’s vehicle. No other weapons were in the vehicle, investigators said.

The relative dearth of information about what happened has not stopped people from speculating on social media. Several Facebook posts about the shooting were flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

Here’s what we know — and what we don’t.

(Screenshot, Facebook)

Who is the officer who shot Jacob Blake?

“His name is Luke Courtier,” reads the text over a photo of an officer being shared on Facebook. “He is a cop and resource officer at Washington Middle School part time. He shot the man in Kenosha today. Let get him fired and arrested immediately.”

Another post warns that this is not the officer’s name. “EVERYONE SHARING THE COPS NAME!!! IT IS NOT LUKE!! THE SHOOTERS NAME IS Rusten Sheskey!!!!!! RUSTEN SHESKEY!!!!!!!!!” the post says. It shows two images of an officer and mentions Bradford High School.

In 2016, the Kenosha Police Department posted photos of an officer named Luke Courtier who resembles the man pictured in the Facebook post. But Courtier has not been named as one of the officers involved in the shooting. We couldn’t find his name in any credible news reports about the incident.

Same goes for Sheskey, whose photo was used in a 2019 Kenosha News story about his work as a “bike cop” before it started circulating on Facebook.

The Wisconsin Division of Criminal Investigation on Aug. 26 said Sheskey was the officer who fired at Blake.

(Screenshot, Facebook)

Blake is not a ‘child rapist’

An Aug. 24 Facebook post claims that Blake “is a Child (16 YO Girl) Rapist.”

That’s inaccurate.

The post references an active arrest warrant for Blake and a 2015 article from the Racine County Eye, an online news outlet based directly north of Kenosha County. Neither proves that Blake is a “child rapist.”

First, let’s take a look at the article — which is unrelated to the warrant.

In September 2015, police arrested Blake after he pulled a gun at a bar in neighboring Racine. He was charged with one felony count of resisting arrest and “one misdemeanor count each of carrying a concealed weapon, carrying a firearm while intoxicated, endangering safety-use of a dangerous weapon, and disorderly conduct,” according to the Racine County Eye.

Blake was charged in Racine County Circuit Court, but the case is not listed in the state’s database of circuit court records. According to the website, felony and misdemeanor cases that were dismissed or acquitted only display in the database for two years after they were resolved.

Now, let’s take a look at the warrant for Blake’s arrest, issued July 7 in Kenosha. According to Wisconsin’s circuit court records database, Blake was charged with one felony count of third-degree sexual assault and two misdemeanor counts of disorderly conduct and criminal trespassing. All those charges are related to an alleged incident of domestic abuse that occurred May 3. The criminal complaint was filed July 6.

According to Wisconsin law, third-degree sexual assault can include nonconsensual sexual intercourse or other sexual contact, such as ejaculation or urination. Sex with a minor is not listed as one of the offenses included in the charge.

Did Blake have a weapon during his encounter with police?

The Wisconsin Division of Criminal Investigation on Aug. 26 said Blake admitted that he had a knife in his possession, and investigators found a knife on the driver’s side floorboard of Blake’s vehicle.

Several widely shared Facebook posts include a screenshot from a graphic video that shows the shooting. In the still, Blake’s hand is circled in red.

“Police were called because Jacob Blake was waving a knife around and in conjunction with a domestic situation,” said Mike the Cop, a social media influencer focused on law enforcement, in an Aug. 24 post. “Blake said he had a gun in the car and was going to go get it.”

It’s unproven that Blake was “waving a knife around.” Blake did not have a gun in the car, according to authorities.

According to investigators, Kenosha Police Department officers were dispatched after a female caller reported that her boyfriend was present and was not supposed to be on the premises.

At 5:11 p.m. on Aug. 23, officers responded to a complaint of “family trouble” at Blake’s address. The dispatcher told officers that there’s a person at that address who is wanted for some reason. The woman who called police reported that Blake “isn’t supposed to be there and he took the complainant’s keys and is refusing to give them back.”

Three officers arrived on the scene within the next few minutes. The dispatcher told officers that the complainant said Blake is trying to leave.

Bystander video shows Blake scuffling with the officers on the passenger side of a gray SUV. Another video, shot from the driver’s side of the vehicle, shows three police officers with their guns drawn as Blake walks around the side of the SUV.

Two officers follow Blake closely. As Blake tries to enter the vehicle, one officer is seen pulling Blake’s shirt and shooting him in the back at close range. Seven gunshots are heard. It isn’t clear from the video how many officers fired at Blake.

In the video, police tell Blake to “drop the knife.” He appears to be carrying a dark object in his left hand.

Raysean White, the man who recorded the video, told the Associated Press that he didn’t see a knife in Blake’s hands. An attorney representing Blake and his family told CNN that Blake did not have a weapon in his car.

(Screenshot, Facebook)

Photos on social media misidentify Blake

A grid of four images being shared on social media show someone posing with a gun, and in three of the photos, aiming it at the camera.

“I’m not judging,” the post says, “I’m just showing you pictures of Jacob Blake.”

These aren’t photos of Blake.

They previously spread on social media in connection with the death of 16-year-old Pierre Loury, who was shot by a police officer in 2016 in Chicago.

But we couldn’t find credible sources confirming that the person in these photos is Loury, either. His Facebook account now only shows two photos, including one that says “R.I.P.”

Who shot and killed people during the unrest from Blake’s shooting?

Several Facebook users have identified Kyle Rittenhouse as the person they say is responsible for shooting three people during demonstrations on Aug. 25 and since those posts were published, news outlets have reported on the arrest of a 17-year-old by that name in connection with the incident.

“Kyle Rittenhouse 17 years old who appears to be part of an organized militia group,” one post says, linking to a tweet with a recording in which gunshots can be heard.

Rittenhouse was arrested in Illinois on suspicion of first-degree intentional homicide, according to public records. He is suspected of fatally shooting one person in the head and another in the chest, according to the Daily Beast, and he’s scheduled to appear at an extradition hearing on Aug. 28.

Whether he was part of a militia group is unclear.

The unrest on Aug. 25 may have stemmed from a “call to arms” posted on Facebook by a self-described militia called the Kenosha Guard, according to the Verge.

“Any patriots willing to take up arms and defend our city tonight from the evil thugs?” the post said before Facebook took it down. “No doubt they are currently planning on the next part of the city to burn tonight.”

“We are unaware if the armed citizen was answering the Kenosha Guard Militia’s call to arms,” the group said in an Aug. 26 statement. “Just like with the shooting of Jacob Blake, we need all the facts and evidence to come out before we make a judgment.”

Rittenhouse was not a bike cop pictured in a Facebook post

A Facebook post showing two photos — one of a Kenosha police officer in a bike helmet and another of the suspected shooter during demonstrations on Aug. 25 — and wrongly claims that the images show the same person.

“Come to find out the shooter last night is a…. COP?” the post says.

The first photo shows Rusten Sheskey, the Kenosha police officer who investigators say shot Blake.

He is not the same person as the suspected shooter, who, nine years ago, would have been about 8 years old.

Kyle Rittenhouse is the 17-year-old arrested on suspicion of first-degree intentional homicide in connection with the shooting. Rittenhouse is a resident of Antioch, Ill., about 15 miles southwest of Kenosha.

This article was originally published by PolitiFact, which is owned by the Poynter Institute, and is republished here with permission. See the sources for these facts checks here and more of their fact-checks here.

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Daniel Funke is a staff writer covering online misinformation for PolitiFact. He previously reported for Poynter as a fact-checking reporter and a Google News Lab…
Daniel Funke
Ciara O'Rourke is a contributing writer for PolitiFact. Previously, Ciara covered local government and public safety for the Austin American-Statesman and fact-checked elected officials and…
Ciara O'Rourke

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