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Jamar Clark mediation hits wall; wrongful-death lawsuit now on track for trial

A daylong mediation between Minneapolis leaders and the family of Jamar Clark, a man fatally shot by police in 2015, hit an impasse after the city didn’t counter the family’s offer to settle for $20 million, setting the lawsuit on track for trial.

The city didn’t respond to the Clark family’s $20 million offer, the family’s attorneys said. City officials didn’t confirm that number nor did they provide any details of the closed-door discussions.

“We are in the process of trying to come to a resolution in the best interests of everyone in the city,” Mayor Jacob Frey said.

The amount of the offer from Clark’s family is identical to the amount the city paid out earlier this month in the death of Justine Ruszczyk Damond, a woman who was fatally shot in 2017 by then-police officer Mohamed Noor. Immediately afterward, Senior U.S. District Judge Michael Davis tried to jump-start the Clark discussions two weeks ago when he ordered city leaders into his courtroom to get an update on the status of the case.

The city and the Clark contingents spent the day in separate rooms with Magistrate Judge Tony Leung shuttling between them. At the end of the day, everyone went into Davis’ courtroom to tell him they were at an impasse. Davis said tersely he would set a trial schedule.

Clark’s father, James Clark, sued the city in 2017. A settlement was negotiated by his lawyer. But the council rejected the settlement on the same day it agreed to the $20 million payout to the Damond family. Noor was convicted in Hennepin County District Court of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in her death. He awaits sentencing.

Clark, 24, was shot in the head on Nov. 15, 2015, after an encounter with Minneapolis police officers Mark Ringgenberg and Dustin Schwarze on the city’s North Side, sparking weeks of protest. Clark was unarmed.

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman declined to charge the two officers. According to the investigation, Ringgenberg felt Clark’s hand on his gun after he took him to the ground and told Schwarze, his partner, to shoot. Schwarze told investigators he warned Clark to let go of Ringgenberg’s gun before shooting him.

Intense interest

An unusually large group of high-level city leaders was at the courthouse and for the mediation including City Attorney Susan Segal, Frey, Council President Lisa Bender, Council Members Jeremiah Ellison and Andrea Jenkins and Police Chief Medaria Arradondo. Ringgenberg and Schwarze also were there and in uniform. The two remain on duty with the department.

The previous proposed settlement in the Clark case was well below $100,000, according to sources with knowledge of the amount. But the council rejected the amount.

Council Member Phillipe Cunningham posted on Facebook earlier this month that, “The settlement was rejected [because] we felt the number was way too low.” Cunningham later deleted the post, saying he had been informed that he wasn’t allowed to comment.

As to whether the council should have agreed to the amount, Frey said that he and the council have been “on the same page” regarding the lawsuit.

Frey said he didn’t know whether the case would go to trial, but both he and lawyers for Clark’s family agreed that settlement talks could resume while pretrial activity occurs.

Only Clark’s lawyers discussed the substance of the talks that they said began and ended with their offer of $20 million.

“We didn’t really have an offer from the city,” said David Suro, a lawyer from Denver who is handling the case with William Starr.

He echoed Starr’s words from two weeks ago that the family sought a “transformative” amount like Damond’s family received that would help the community heal. Two million dollars from the Damond settlement will go toward a nonprofit set up to fight gun violence.

Despite the identical $20 million offer, Suro acknowledged to reporters that the two cases are not the same.

In another development, Clark’s siblings and their lawyer John Dornik attended the mediation. There have been questions about who had legal standing to receive a settlement. Dornik said those issues have been resolved.

“There is unity with one goal in mind,” he said.

On Monday, the Twin Cities Coalition for Justice for Jamar held a news conference outside the federal courthouse in Minneapolis to demand that Clark’s family be paid a $20 million settlement just as Damond’s family was.

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