Justin Blake sues Kenosha County sheriff’s department, alleging ‘torture’ during protest arrest

Justin Blake is suing the Kenosha County sheriff’s department for allegedly engaging in “torture” after arresting him during a demonstration over the police shooting of his nephew, Jacob Blake.

The complaint, filed Tuesday in federal court, says sheriff’s officers forced Justin Blake into a device known as an “emergency restraint chair” after arresting him for disorderly conduct and obstructing/resisting an officer in April 2021.

Blake did not speak to the officers as part of his protest, according to the lawsuit, and they strapped him into the chair as punishment for his silence. He remained there for almost seven hours, suffering “permanent damage and substantial injuries throughout his body including to his neck, back, and shoulders,” the lawsuit says.

Blake is asking the court to force the sheriff’s department to abandon its use of the restraint chair, delete his arrest records and pay unspecified damages.

The sheriff’s department referred questions to its attorney, Sam Hall, who denied Blake’s allegations of wrongdoing.

“The restraint chair is an approved law enforcement tool used nationally in the corrections setting and is a vital part of ensuring safety of inmates and officers in a jail,” Hall said in a statement. “We will be providing a robust defense in this litigation to establish that the use of the restraint chair was appropriate in this circumstance.”

A sheriff’s department official told the Kenosha News shortly after the arrest that Blake’s “noncompliance” meant officers couldn’t remove items such as a belt and shoestrings that could be used for self-harm.

“Instead of using physical force, our most peaceful option is to have them sit in the restraint chair,” interim Sheriff’s Capt. Eric Klinkhammer told the paper. “It’s not used as punishment, it’s used so people can stay safe, and as soon as we can get someone out of the chair, we take them out.”

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A Kenosha County court commissioner fined Blake $150 for disorderly conduct when he did not appear in court to contest it (Blake had not been notified of the hearing, according to his attorney). Blake opted to reopen the case, and a trial is set for November.

Kenosha police Officer Rusten Sheskey, who is white, shot Blake’s nephew Jacob, who is Black, seven times during an August 2020 struggle in the lakeside Wisconsin community.

The shooting, which left Jacob Blake paralyzed from the waist down, set off days of sometimes chaotic protests, capped by Kyle Rittenhouse fatally shooting two men and wounding a third in what a jury later concluded was self-defense.

Kenosha County District Attorney Michael Graveley declined to charge Sheskey, saying he wouldn’t be able to disprove Sheskey’s own self-defense claims (the officer said Jacob Blake menaced him with a knife, which Blake denied).

Sheskey returned to his policing job in April 2021, which prompted Justin Blake’s protest.

jkeilman@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @JohnKeilman

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