Former Madison, Wisconsin, police chief tapped to help Jacob Blake investigation

Investigators in Wisconsin selected former Madison Police Chief Noble Wray as an independent consultant for prosecutors weighing possible charges against the Kenosha officer who shot Jacob Blake.

Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul and Kenosha County District Attorney Michael Graveley said at a news conference Monday that Wray was being brought in during the “final stages” of the investigation.

“Noble Wray is a longtime Wisconsin resident and a widely respected retired Madison police chief who has extensive experience in law enforcement, including experience at the national level as a police reform specialist for the U.S. Department of Justice,” Kaul said in a news release.

Blake, a Black man, was shot multiple times in the back in Kenosha on Aug. 23, an incident that was captured on video and left him paralyzed from the waist down. Blake’s shooting, which came three months after George Floyd died in Minneapolis police custody, became another rallying cry in the nationwide protests that erupted in the wake of Floyd’s death.

Kenosha Officer Rusten Sheskey held the shirt of Blake, 29, and opened fire as Blake tried to get in a vehicle, authorities said. Kaul has previously said investigators found a knife on the driver’s side floorboard after the shooting. But an attorney for Blake’s family, Benjamin Crump, has said Blake did not have a knife in his hand. Crump said Blake was trying to get into his car to protect his sons, who were in the back seat.

Wray, who is Black, said at the news conference that while he has seen the “graphic” video of Blake’s shooting, he has not “prejudged” the case.

“I’m from Wisconsin,” he said. “This is Wisconsin’s moment of truth, and I want the best for this case and the people of this state.”

Wray retired in 2013 after nearly three decades of service, serving nine of those years at the helm of the Madison Police Department, according to the Wisconsin State Journal. Before his departure, Wray was met with criticism after the fatal police shooting of Paul Heenan at a neighbor’s home in November 2012.

Officer Stephen Heimsness was responding to a possible burglary report when he found Heenan struggling with the homeowner outside, the State Journal reported. Heimsness drew his gun and ordered both men to the ground when Heenan, who was drunk and unarmed, advanced toward Heimsness.

“Officer Heimsness believed his life was in danger and fired three rounds,” Wray said at the time. “Talking with the investigators and what I know about the case, the struggle that took place between Officer Heimsness and Mr. Heenan, I think, did produce a deadly force situation.”

Heimsness was exonerated after an internal investigation by the police department and Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanee, but he resigned shortly afterward as Wray planned to fire him for repeatedly violating department rules unrelated to the shooting, the State Journal reported.

The city of Madison paid $2.3 million to Heenan’s family in a settlement in 2015.

Following protocol, the state Justice Department’s Department of Criminal Investigations led the investigation of Blake’s, according to the news release. But in this case, Wray will be provided with the file for his analysis, which will then be used to assist prosecutors in their decision whether to press charges.

On Aug. 28, the U.S. Justice Department announced its own civil rights investigation, which will occur simultaneously with the state investigation. All of the officers involved have been placed on administrative leave.

Blake’s shooting sparked protests in the streets of Kenosha that left two people dead. Kyle Rittenhouse, 17, who has been charged with intentional homicide, is alleged to have fatally shot Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, and Anthony Huber, 26, on Aug. 25 during the unrest.

Blake also inspired widespread protests throughout professional sports, led by the Milwaukee Bucks’ walking out of an NBA playoff game on Aug. 26.