U.S. Supreme Court rejects case over ‘qualified immunity’ for police

By Andrew Chung

(Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday sidestepped a chance to review the scope of a legal defense called qualified immunity that increasingly has been used to shield police accused of excessive force, turning away an appeal by a Cleveland man who sued after being roughed up by police while trying to enter his own home.

The justices declined to hear the appeal by Shase Howse, who said he was slammed to the ground outside the house where he lived with his mother in a poor and mostly Black neighborhood, struck in the back of the neck and jailed after police deemed his actions suspicious. Howse, who was 20 at the time, is Black. The police involved in the 2016 incident are white.

Qualified immunity protects police officers and other types of government officials from civil litigation in certain circumstances, allowing lawsuits only when an individual’s “clearly established” statutory or constitutional rights have been violated.

Police use of force has been closely scrutinized following the May 2020 death of a Black man named George Floyd after a Minneapolis officer knelt on his neck.

The U.S. House of Representatives last Wednesday passed policing reform legislation that among other provisions would eliminate the qualified immunity defense for law enforcement. The legislation, supported by most Democrats and opposed by Republicans, faces an uphill battle in the Senate.

Howse’s case was featured in a Reuters investigation into qualified immunity published in December. The investigation illustrated how the endorsement of this defense by courts has denied Black Americans recourse to justice under a law enacted 150 years ago specifically to protect them from abuses by state and local authorities in the post-Civil War years.

Howse sued two police officers, Brian Middaugh and Thomas Hodous, accusing them of excessive force in violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures. The officers said they used only the force necessary to subdue Howse.

The Cincinnati, Ohio-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2020 granted the officers qualified immunity, ruling that no “clearly established” precedent showed that their actions were unlawful.

In May 2020, a Reuters investigation revealed how qualified immunity, under the careful stewardship of the Supreme Court, has made it easier for police to kill or injure civilians with impunity by shielding them from lawsuits, even when courts determine police actually violated a person’s constitutional rights.

Law enforcement professionals and some U.S. conservatives have argued that qualified immunity is essential for police to make quick decisions in dangerous situations without fear of lawsuits.

In recent months, the Supreme Court has signaled a potential softening of its approach to qualified immunity. In two cases the justices allowed inmates to sue prison guards who had been granted immunity by lower courts from accusations that they violated the Constitution’s Eighth Amendment prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.

(Reporting by Andrew Chung in New York; Editing by Will Dunham)

UK to prioritize next stage of COVID-19 vaccines by age, not job

By Alistair Smout

LONDON (Reuters) – Police and teachers will not jump to the head of the queue in the second phase of Britain’s COVID-19 vaccination rollout, with people instead prioritized by age, officials advising the government said on Friday, describing this as the best way to keep up the pace of immunizations.

Britain’s vaccine program has been among the fastest in the world, meeting a government target to offer a first dose of vaccination to 15 million high-risk people by mid-February.

Some frontline workers such as police and teachers had been calling for prioritization on the basis of their jobs, but Professor Wei Shen Lim, COVID-19 chairman for the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization (JCVI), said such an approach could complicate the rollout.

“Following an age-based program will be simple, and simplicity has been one of the cornerstones of the current program in terms of speed and its success,” he told a news conference.

Britain aims to complete the first phase of its vaccine rollout by mid-April.

While the priority list for that phase was largely determined by age, with all over-50s set to be offered a vaccine, health and care workers and clinically vulnerable people have also been prioritized.

Announcing the prioritization list for phase 2, Lim said all those aged between 40-49 would be next in line for the shot, then those aged 30-39, then those aged 18-29.

The JCVI said that an age-based approach remained the most effective way of reducing death and hospitalization from COVID-19, even in those under 50. Giving shots by job would be logistically complex and could result in delays, it said.

The government said it would follow the recommended approach, but not everyone welcomed the advice.

John Apter, chairman of the Police Federation of England & Wales, said it was “a contemptible betrayal of police officers.”

“Their anger is palpable, this will not be forgotten.”

(Reporting by Alistair Smout; Editing by Michael Holden, Elizabeth Piper and Frances Kerry)

Rochester, N.Y., police officers suspended in pepper-spraying of 9-year-old girl

By Barbara Goldberg and Steve Gorman

(Reuters) – The mayor of Rochester, New York, ordered the immediate suspension on Monday of city police officers involved in the pepper-spraying of a 9-year-old girl while she was handcuffed, an incident caught on police body-camera video.

Mayor Lovely Warren said in a message posted on Twitter that the suspensions, announced after she met with the city’s police chief, would continue “at a minimum” until a police internal investigation of Friday’s arrest is completed.

“What happened Friday was simply horrible, and has rightly outraged all of our community,” the mayor said. “Unfortunately, state law and union contract prevents me from taking more immediate and serious action.”

Neither the mayor nor the police department made it clear exactly how many officers would be suspended.

She added that she would “lead the charge” in seeking changes to state law to allow municipal governments to take swifter action to discipline officers in such cases.

Police have said the officers involved were responding to a family disturbance call on Friday, and video footage taken during the incident showed police wrestling the girl to the ground in the snow.

“You’re acting like a child,” an officer tells her.

“I am a child,” the girl, who appears to be Black, says as she screams, crying for her father.

In Friday’s incident, Rochester Deputy Police Chief Andre Anderson told reporters that the girl “indicated she wanted to kill herself and she wanted to kill her mom.”

After the girl tried to run away, officers handcuffed her and attempted to take her to a hospital in a patrol car, Anderson said.

She repeatedly screamed “I want my dad!” as the officers tried to pull her into the vehicle, the video showed.

“This is your last chance. Otherwise pepper spray is going into your eyeballs,” an officer tells her, adding, “I will call your dad.”

Eventually, another officer says, “Just spray her at this point.”

The girl screams and is heard pleading, “Wipe my eyes, please!”

“Unbelievable,” an officer sighs.

The girl’s identity was not released, and the video was blurred to provide anonymity. A representative for the child’s family could not be immediately identified.

(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg in New York; Editing by Frank McGurty and Aurora Ellis)

Biden plans to limit private prisons and transfer of military equipment to police

By Sarah N. Lynch and Trevor Hunnicutt

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Joe Biden is poised to issue executive actions as soon as Tuesday scaling back the use of private prisons and placing new limits on the transfer of military equipment to local law enforcement, according to a person familiar with the matter and a planning document.

The executive actions are part of a broader push by the new administration to roll back controversial policies by Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump, promote criminal justice reform and address racial inequity across the United States.

Representatives of the White House and the Justice Department did not respond to requests for comment.

Some of the Biden administration’s actions will reinstate policies at the Justice Department that were in effect during the administration of former President Barack Obama, according to the planning document circulated to congressional Democrats by the White House.

Following the fatal police shooting of a black teenager in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014, Obama curtailed the federal government’s military equipment transfer program to local law enforcement amid a public outcry over its use.

The Obama-era policy placed limits on the types of equipment police departments could receive, and required them to justify the need for items like helicopters, riot helmets and “flash-bang” grenades.

The move to reduce the use of private prisons is also an Obama-era policy that was championed by then-Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates.

The United States was rocked by street protests in 2020 over the killings of Black men and women by police, including George Floyd in Minneapolis in May.

Floyd’s death has helped spark renewed calls for reforms to address systemic racism, both in how Black communities are policed and incarcerated.

Other potential executive actions in the works include reforms targeting prosecutorial decisions and sentencing, as well as policies involving voting and other civil rights laws.

The document seen by Reuters did not have details on those, saying they were “TBD” (to be determined).

However, Biden has previously pledged to scale back the use of mandatory minimum sentences – a policy that was also imposed by the Obama administration, but later undone after Trump took office.

Activists have also pushed for ending the use of the death penalty for federal crimes.

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch and Trevor Hunnicutt; Additional reporting by Herbert Lash, Ted Hesson and David Shephardson; Editing by Heather Timmons and Sonya Hepinstall)

Stranded truckers fume as they wait to leave UK after COVID blockade

By Peter Nicholls and Gerry Mey

DOVER, England (Reuters) – Furious truck drivers stranded at the English port of Dover scuffled with police as Britain sought to get cross-Channel traffic moving after a partial blockade by France to contain a highly infectious coronavirus variant.

Paris and London agreed late on Tuesday that drivers carrying a negative test result could board ferries for Calais from Wednesday after much of the world shut its borders to Britain to contain the new mutated variant.

The British government has drafted in the military to help but there was confusion amongst drivers about how to get tests, and warnings it would take time to clear the backlog of trucks, hammering Britain’s most important trade route for food just days before it leaves the European Union’s orbit.

“Testing has begun as we look to get traffic moving again between the UK and France,” British transport minister Grant Shapps said on Twitter. “However, French border police only acting on agreement from this morning and severe delays continue.”

Huge queues of trucks have been stacked on a motorway towards the Eurotunnel Channel Tunnel and on roads to Dover in the southeast county of Kent, while others have been parked up at the former nearby airport at Manston.

With no sign of traffic to the European mainland resuming and confusion over how to get a coronavirus test, tempers were beginning to flare among drivers, many from Eastern Europe who do not speak English and are angry that they will not be able to get home to their families before Christmas.

Police said there had been disturbances in Dover and Manston “involving individuals hoping to cross the Channel” and one arrest had been made.

“This is not how it should work. We have no information, the people need to be fetching information,” Mekki Coskun from Dortmund in Germany, told Reuters.

Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said he had been in touch with Britain’s Boris Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron about the jam.

“This can be done differently. This whole process could’ve been better organized,” he said.

The Road Haulage Association, which estimated there were up to 10,000 trucks being held up in Kent, said it was chaotic.

“The border is still closed, the testing regime isn’t happening yet, you’ve got truckers very angry and we’re starting to see a breakdown in law and order in a small way among very frustrated guys who want to get back by Christmas,” Rod McKenzie, managing director of policy for the RHA, said.

Normally between 7,500-8,500 trucks travel via the port every day but volumes have reached more than 10,000 recently.

Getlink, the operator of the Channel Tunnel, said just 45 trucks had reached France between midnight and 1100 GMT.

FURTHER BREXIT DISRUPTION

Some of the extra traffic was a result of Christmas demand, but many were in the country to deliver goods to companies who are stockpiling parts before Britain finally leaves the EU on Dec. 31, a move that is expected to cause further disruption in January when a full customs border comes into force.

The British Retail Consortium, an industry lobby group, warned that until the backlog of trucks was cleared and supply chains returned to normal, there could be issues with the availability of some fresh goods.

Logistics firms have also said that many European drivers had already refused to come to Britain in the new year when they would have to carry customs paperwork, and the need to secure a coronavirus test will further compound the situation, pushing up freight prices.

Drivers will first take a rapid lateral flow test. Anyone who records a positive result will take a more comprehensive PCR test, which takes longer to secure a result, and anyone testing positive again will be given a hotel room to isolate.

Many of the mostly European drivers, many stranded with their trucks and without access to hot food or bathroom facilities, believe they are pawns in a political standoff between Britain and the EU as trade talks reach a climax.

“We don’t have food to eat, we don’t have drink, we don’t have anything, nobody … cares about us,” said Stella Vradzheva a driver from Sterlcha in Bulgaria.

(Additional reporting by James Davey, Joanna Plucinska, and Yiming Woo; Writing by Kate Holton and Michael Holden; Editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Alison Williams)

Emotional Louisville braces for more unrest after Breonna Taylor ruling

By Bryan Woolston

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (Reuters) – Louisville braced for a second night of protests on Thursday after two police officers were shot during demonstrations over a decision by a grand jury not to file homicide charges against police in the fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor.

Protests erupted in the Kentucky city on Wednesday after the state attorney general announced that a grand jury did not bring any charges for the six police bullets that struck Taylor, a Black woman, but instead lesser charges against one of the white policemen for stray shots that hit the neighboring apartment.

Civil rights activists decried the outcome as a miscarriage of justice and part of a nationwide pattern of unwarranted police violence against minorities.

The demonstration started peacefully and emotionally on Wednesday night, with many protesters in tears after they had mourned Taylor for months, demanding the arrest of the officers involved.

Louisville turned violent after dark when the two officers were shot and wounded. Police arrested 127 people in Louisville, including Larynzo Johnson, 26, who was charged with two counts of assault in the first degree and 14 counts of wanton endangerment in connection with the wounding of the two officers.

“We are extremely fortunate these two officers will recover,” interim Louisville Metropolitan Police Chief Robert Schroeder said.

“For all of us it is a very tense and emotional time,” he added.

The Louisville protest was the latest in a wave to grip the country following the killings of African Americans by police, including the May 25 death of George Floyd when a Minneapolis officer knelt on his neck.

Demonstrators led by the Black Lives Matter movement have demanded an end to racial injustice and excessive police force.

With people already casting ballots in early voting for the Nov. 3 U.S. presidential election, the demonstrations have drawn not only peaceful anti-racism protests but also a volatile mix of armed, right-wing militias and anarchists.

On Wednesday, protests also flared in New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Washington, Oakland, Philadelphia, Denver, Portland and Seattle, where police said 13 were arrested for property destruction, resisting arrest, failure to disperse and assault on an officer.

In Buffalo, New York, a pickup truck sped into a group of demonstrators, injuring one person, video on social media showed.

GIRDING FOR UNREST

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer declared a state of emergency ahead of the grand jury announcement, ordering much of the center of town barricaded and setting a 9 p.m. curfew that remained in effect on Thursday.

National Guard units gathered in a central Louisville parking garage and a heavy vehicle known as a wrecker was seen driving into town, social media images showed.

“Tonight I expect more people to hit the streets. I expect the police to continue to antagonize and provoke. Hopefully and prayerfully, no one gets hurt tonight,” said Timothy Findley Jr., 41, a leader of the Justice & Freedom Coalition and a pastor with the Kingdom Fellowship Christian Life Center in Louisville.

Police said some protesters damaged businesses, jumped on a police vehicle, vandalized public works trucks serving as barricades, set garbage cans on fire and defied orders to disperse from what police determined were unlawful assemblies.

At least three stores were looted, police said.

Taylor’s death on March 13 drew little national attention at first but was thrust into prominence after Floyd’s death and with the help of celebrities such as Hollywood stars and basketball great LeBron James.

Demonstrations under the banner “Say her name!” have been held in Louisville for months.

Taylor, 26, an emergency medical technician and aspiring nurse, was killed in front of her armed boyfriend after the three officers forced their way into her home with a search warrant in a drug-trafficking investigation.

Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron said the panel declined to bring any charges against two of the three policemen who fired into Taylor’s apartment because their actions were found to have been justified under Kentucky law as they returned fire after Taylor’s boyfriend shot at them, wounding one.

Police fired a total of 32 shots after the one round from Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, who said he fired a warning shot because he feared a criminal intrusion and did not hear police identify themselves.

(Reporting by Bryan Woolston in Louisville; Additional reporting by Peter Szekely, Nathan Layne, Maria Caspani and Daniel Trotta; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Alistair Bell and Cynthia Osterman)

Trump visits Kenosha, not to urge racial healing but to back police

By Jeff Mason

KENOSHA, Wis. (Reuters) – President Donald Trump defied requests to stay away and visited Kenosha, Wisconsin, on Tuesday, not to urge racial healing after a white officer shot a Black man in the back but to express support for law enforcement in a city rocked by civil unrest.

With the United States polarized over issues of racial injustice and police use of force, Trump is appealing to his base of white supporters with a “law and order” message as opinion polls show him cutting into the lead of his Democratic rival, former vice president Joe Biden.

Meanwhile Trump has largely overlooked the racial wounds caused by police use of force and played down the more than 180,000 U.S. deaths from the coronavirus pandemic.

The Republican president also threatened to send more federal officers into cities governed by Democratic mayors even if local officials objected, saying, “At some point … we’ll just have to do it ourselves.”

Trump did not visit Jacob Blake, who was paralyzed from the waist down after a white police officer fired at his back seven times on Aug. 23. He did not meet Blake’s family either, but did meet with his mother’s pastors.

He promised instead to rebuild Kenosha and provide more federal spending to Wisconsin, a political battleground state that Trump won narrowly in 2016 and badly needs to keep in his column as he seeks re-election on Nov. 3.

The president visited a burned-out furniture store that was destroyed in the upheaval and then a makeshift command center to praise National Guard troops who were called in to reinforce local police after several nights of peaceful protests gave way to looting, arson and gunfire.

“These are not acts of peaceful protest, but really domestic terror,” Trump told local business leaders in a high school gym.

Peaceful demonstrators have complained that violent agitators, often white, have hijacked their protests with property damage. But many have also sharply criticized the police, saying the United States needs to completely rethink its law enforcement practices.

“To stop the political violence, we must also confront the radical ideology. … We have to condemn the dangerous anti-police rhetoric,” Trump said, adding that without his help Kenosha would have “burned to the ground.”

APPEAL TO ‘CHANGE THE HEARTS’

The visit was not completely without empathy. While Trump dodged questions about systemic racism and problems in policing, he did say that he felt “terribly for anybody who goes through that,” referring to the police shooting, and that he was honored to meet with the co-pastors of Blake’s mother, the only two Black people at Trump’s round-table.

Pastor James Ward appealed for greater efforts to “change the hearts of people” and bring healing and peace to the community, while his wife and co-pastor Sharon Ward said, “I think it’s important to have Black people at the table to help solve the problem.”

The state’s Democratic governor and the city’s Democratic mayor both had urged Trump not to visit so as to avoid inflaming tensions and allow citizens to heal. But when he showed up, the president pledged $1 million in federal support to Kenosha law enforcement, $4 million to small businesses, and $42 million to public safety statewide, contrasting that with leftist calls to “defund the police.”

Much of the country has rallied to the side of civil rights since George Floyd, a Black man, died on May 25 after a white police officer knelt on his neck. The country was reckoning with that case when Blake was shot as he entered his car on Aug. 23.

Kenosha has become one of the flash-point cities where anti-racist demonstrators have clashed with Trump supporters who have converged on protest sites, sometimes openly carrying arms while vowing to protect property from looters.

A 17-year-old Trump supporter has been charged with killing two people and wounding another with a semi-automatic rifle in Kenosha. Trump defended the white teenager, who faces six criminal counts, and declined to condemn violence from his supporters.

But in Portland, Oregon, site of three months of nightly protests that have often turned violent, a Trump supporter was shot dead on Saturday and the president lamented that “they executed a man in the street.”

The president took credit for restoring peace in Kenosha since National Guard and federal law enforcement reinforcements were sent in. Although Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers called in more National Guard troops on his own authority, Trump did send in about 200 federal law enforcement officials.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason; Additonal reporting by Andrea Shalal and Phil Stewart; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Howard Goller)

Portland police break up protest with smoke grenades and pepper balls; 19 arrested

By Deborah Bloom

PORTLAND, Ore. (Reuters) – Protests flared again in Portland overnight on Monday as demonstrators clashed with police on the streets of the city which after months of sometimes violent confrontations has become a focal point of the U.S. presidential race.

Police used smoke grenades and pepper balls to control the crowd of protesters. Police acknowledged in a statement that officers “deployed some crowd control munitions” and said 19 people were arrested, mostly on charges of disorderly conduct and interfering with police.

About 200-300 people gathered in the downtown area to march to the apartment of Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler to demand his resignation. They were seen setting fire to wooden benches and plastic trash bins along the march.

Police declared the gathering unlawful and later upgraded it to a riot after protesters set fire in an apartment building. The area was secured to allow firefighters to respond to the situation, police said.

Portland has seen nightly protests since the killing of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, in Minneapolis on May 25. Hundreds of demonstrators have been arrested since the protests began.

In recent weeks, tensions between right- and left-wing groups in the city have roiled downtown.

Supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump have converged on the city as counter demonstrators, including one man who was fatally shot on Saturday night. Nobody has been charged in that case as police review poor-quality video of the incident.

State police and officers from neighboring suburbs were sent to Portland on Monday following the shooting.

(Additional reporting by Ann Maria Shibu in Bengaluru; writing by Kanishka Singh, editing by Angus MacSwan and Chizu Nomiyama)

Wisconsin city calm but police shooting reverberates across U.S.

By Brendan McDermid and Stephen Maturen

KENOSHA, Wis. (Reuters) – Relative calm returned to Kenosha, Wisconsin, overnight after the previous night’s deadly gun violence, and investigators revealed new details about the police shooting that paralyzed a Black man and revived a wave of protests over racial injustice.

Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul on Wednesday identified Rusten Sheskey as the white police officer who fired seven shots at the back of Jacob Blake after Blake opened his car door on Sunday. Kaul also said investigators found a knife on the floor of Blake’s car.

That announcement, combined with the arrest of a 17-year-old suspect charged with homicide over the previous night’s gunfire, set the stage for what could have been another night of chaos on the streets of Kenosha, about 40 miles (60 km) south of Milwaukee.

Shockwaves from the events in the city of about 100,000 were felt throughout the United States as professional athletes went on strike and anti-racism street protests intensified in other cities. At the Republican National Convention, Vice President Mike Pence and other speakers demanded “law and order.”

But in Kenosha, after three nights of civil strife – including arson, vandalism and the shootings that killed two people on Tuesday night – calm appeared to take hold on Wednesday night and Thursday morning.

About 200 protesters defied a curfew and marched peacefully through city streets, chanting, “Black lives matter” and “no justice, no peace” in response to the shooting of Blake, 29, in the presence of three of his young sons.

Law enforcement officers kept a low profile, and counter demonstrators and armed militia figures were notably absent.

Prior nights had seen an array of rifle-toting civilians among them 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse, who was arrested on Wednesday on homicide charges in connection with Tuesday night’s shootings. Rittenhouse, a police supporter, was arrested at his home in Antioch, Illinois, about 20 miles (30 km) away.

PLAYERS ON STRIKE

National Basketball Association players led by the Milwaukee Bucks went on strike to protest racial injustice during the playoffs, putting the rest of the season in jeopardy.

Players in Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer and the Women’s National Basketball followed with their own wildcat strikes, and tennis player Naomi Osaka pulled out of a tournament in Ohio.

The Kenosha turmoil struck while much of the United States remained agitated over George Floyd, who died on May 25 after a Minneapolis policeman knelt on his neck.

In Minneapolis, authorities declared a state of emergency on Wednesday to quell unrest sparked by the death of a Black homicide suspect who police say shot himself.

Police in Oakland, California, said hundreds of people took part in demonstrations that resulted in fires, broken windows and vandalized businesses. And police and protesters continued to clash in Portland, Oregon, where demonstrations have gone on for nearly three months straight.

In the police shooting that sparked the latest wave of outrage, Sheskey, a seven-year veteran of the Kenosha police force, fired seven times at Blake’s back, hitting him four times.

Blake survived despite wounds to his spine and multiple organs, and he may be permanently paralyzed, his family’s lawyers said.

Civil rights attorney Ben Crump, one of the lawyers representing Blake’s family, disputed the report that Blake had a knife.

“Jacob Blake didn’t harm anyone or pose any threat to the police, yet they shot him seven times in the back in front of his children,” Crump said.

“But when a young white supremacist shot and killed two peaceful protesters, local law enforcement and National Guardsmen allowed him to walk down the street with his assault weapon,” Crump and his co-counsels said in a statement, without offering proof that Rittenhouse was a racist.

They were referring to video from the previous night that showed the person who had just fired on protesters was able to walk past a battery of police without being arrested.

Authorities later caught up with Rittenhouse, whose since-deleted Facebook page shows him posing with another young man, both of them holding rifles. The photo is encircled by a Blue Lives Matter badge in support of police.

(Additional reporting by Nathan Layne, Daniel Trotta, Ann Maria Shibu and Kanishka Singh; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Nick Macfie and Jonathan Oatis)

Wisconsin investigators say knife found at scene of police shooting of Jacob Blake

By Brendan McDermid and Stephen Maturen

KENOSHA, Wis. (Reuters) – Investigators of a shooting by a white police officer that left a Black man, Jacob Blake Jr., paralyzed and the town of Kenosha, Wisconsin, torn by civil strife found a knife belonging to Blake at the scene of the confrontation, the state attorney general said on Wednesday.

The incident sparked three nights of civil unrest that has included a wave of arson, widespread vandalism and a separate shooting that claimed two lives in Kenosha, a city of about 100,000 residents on Lake Michigan, 40 miles (60 km) south of Milwaukee.

In the first official details of Sunday’s shooting released by the Wisconsin Justice Department, which is probing the incident, Attorney General Josh Kaul said the knife was recovered from the driver-side front floorboard of the car Blake was leaning into when he was shot in the back.

Kaul also told a news conference that Blake, during the course of the investigation, had “admitted that he had a knife in his possession.”

Blake’s lawyer responded in a statement that his client posed no threat to police and disputed that he was in possession of a knife.

Kaul did not describe the knife or say whether it had anything to do with why the officer, a seven-year veteran of the Kenosha police department identified as Rusten Sheskey, had opened fire on Blake.

Kaul’s briefing came shortly before the U.S. Justice Department announced it had opened a federal civil rights inquiry into the shooting, to be conducted by the FBI in cooperation with Wisconsin authorities.

In a separate development hours earlier, a teenager was arrested and charged with shooting three people, two of whom died, during Tuesday night’s protests in Kenosha.

Video footage from that incident showed a white gunman, armed with an assault-style rifle, firing at protesters who tried to subdue him, and then calmly walking away from the scene, hands in the air – his rifle hanging in front of him – as several police vehicles drive by without stopping him.

Wisconsin Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes said on MSNBC the suspect, later identified as Kyle Rittenhouse, 17, of Antioch, Illinois, was apparently a militia group member who “decided to be a vigilante and take the law into his own hands and mow down innocent protesters.”

Bracing for a fourth night of possible upheavals on Wednesday, Governor Tony Evers said he was doubling the National Guard force he had ordered deployed to 500 troops, and a dusk-to-dawn curfew was imposed an hour earlier.

About 200 protesters defied the curfew for hours after dark as they marched peacefully through city streets, chanting, “Black lives matter” and “No justice, no peace,” while law enforcement kept a low profile. No counter-demonstrators or armed militia figures were present.

National Guard soldiers were seen taking a dinner break behind the county courthouse, surrounded by barricades and heavy fencing erected around several downtown public buildings the previous day.

PREAMBLE TO SHOOTING

By Kaul’s account of events leading to the Blake shooting, city police confronted Blake when they were called to the home of a woman who reported that her boyfriend was present “and was not supposed to be on the premises.”

The location he gave for the residence corresponds with the address of the woman identified in media reports as Blake’s fiance, Laquisha Booker.

During the incident, Kaul said, police tried to arrest Blake, using a Taser stun gun in a failed attempt to subdue him.

Blake, according to the attorney general, then walked around his vehicle, opened the driver-side door and leaned forward, as officer Sheskey, clutching Blake’s shirt, fired his weapon seven times at Blake’s back.

Kaul said no other police officers fired their weapons. The officers involved have been placed on administrative leave.

Bystanders captured the encounter in video footage that has since gone viral, unleashing public outrage at the latest in a long series of instances in which police have been accused of using indiscriminate lethal force against African Americans.

Kaul said police in Kenosha are not equipped with body cameras.

A lawyer for Blake’s family, civil rights attorney Ben Crump, issued a statement late Wednesday saying Blake “did nothing to provoke police” and was “only intending to get his children out of a volatile situation” at the time.

“Witnesses confirm that he was not in possession of a knife and didn’t threaten officers in any way,” he added.

Three of Blake’s young sons – aged 3, 5 and 8 – were in the vehicle at the time and witnessed their father being gunned down, Crump said. Blake has a total of six children.

Neither Crump nor law enforcement officials have mentioned court records showing that an arrest warrant was filed against Blake in July by Kenosha’s district attorney for three domestic abuse-related charges – criminal trespass, disorderly conduct and third-degree sexual assault, a felony.

Crump has declined to respond to Reuters queries about those records, which list Blake’s address as the same street number where Booker is reported to reside.

According to Crump, Blake was struck by four of the seven gunshot rounds fired at him on Sunday. Bullets shattered some of his vertebrae, leaving Blake paralyzed from the waist down, possibly permanently, his lawyers said. He also suffered wounds to his stomach, intestines, kidney and liver and will require multiple operations to recover, they said.

Kaul said his department’s division of criminal investigations plans to issue a full report on the incident to prosecutors in 30 days, and that no other details were immediately available.

Blake’s family and protesters have demanded the officers involved in the shooting be immediately fired and prosecuted.

(Reporting by Nathan Layne, Maria Caspani and Jonathan Allen; Writing and additional reporting by Steve Gorman; editing by Jonathan Oatis, Bill Berkrot, Aurora Ellis, Lincoln Feast and William Mallard)