MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A leading state lawmaker and a criminal defense attorney say Jamar Clark should have been in jail on Nov. 15, the day the 24-year-old was shot and killed by Minneapolis police.
An investigation by WCCO-TV found that Clark was on probation when he was arrested on July 29 after a high-speed chase in a stolen car.
The probation stems from an incident earlier this year, when Clark was arrested after he doused his girlfriend’s apartment building with lighter fluid and threatened to burn down the home she shared with her four young children. Clark was charged with two felonies: making terroristic threats and criminal damage to property. In April, he pleaded guilty to making terroristic threats.
At his June 4 sentencing, Clark was given credit for time served and released. He was also given a 15-month stayed sentence and put on probation for five years. Among the conditions for his probation were that he “remain law-abiding” and have “no arrests, charges or convictions.”
Just eight weeks later, Clark led police on the high-speed chase through north Minneapolis. Inside the car were two juveniles, ages 13 and 15. Clark was arrested, put in jail and charged with fleeing a police officer, a felony. He was released from the Hennepin County jail on Sept. 1.
The stayed sentence was not implemented. Clark remained free.
Then, on Nov. 15, he was fatally shot by Minneapolis police, triggering massive community protests.
Community members say police shot Clark in the head while he was in handcuffs. But the police union disputes that, saying Clark struggled for an officer’s gun.
The case is currently under investigation by the U.S. Justice Department and the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.
But why wasn’t the stayed sentence triggered after Clark’s July arrest?
Chris Crutchfield, of the Ramsey County Corrections Department, said that because Clark reported to his probation officer and met other reporting obligations, he was allowed to be free.
“He was not a risk to public safety,” Crutchfield said.
Rep. Tony Cornish, the chair of the Minnesota House Public Safety Committee and also a former police chief, said he thinks the seriousness of the July incident should have resulted in Clark having to immediately serve the 15-month sentence.
“When you get into violations such as this, that is clearly a reason to send somebody back to state prison,” Cornish said.
Defense attorney Joe Tamburino reviewed the charges and police reports, and he too said he is surprised that the stayed sentence was not implemented.
“He definitely should have received a probation violation,” Tamburino said.
Ramsey County said it followed guidelines in this case. Moreover, Minnesota state law does allow county probation offices wide discretion.
This is a problem, according to Cornish, who says Minnesota needs uniform standards for probation revocation. He added that it is something he and other lawmakers are working on as part of a legislative prison population task force.