A 17-year-old from north suburban Antioch has been charged with murdering two protesters and wounding a third in Kenosha, Wisconsin, during a night of unrest following the police shooting of Jacob Blake.
Charges filed late Thursday by Kenosha County prosecutors accuse Kyle Rittenhouse of first-degree intentional homicide — Wisconsin’s equivalent of first-degree murder — as well as first-degree reckless homicide, attempted first-degree intentional homicide, possession of a dangerous weapon by a person under 18, and two counts of first-degree reckless endangerment.
He would face a mandatory life sentence if convicted of the murder count. All but the gun charge are felonies.
The fatal attacks Tuesday — recorded on cellphone videos and posted online — and the Sunday shooting of Blake, a 29-year-old Black father of six who was left paralyzed from the waist down, made Kenosha the latest focal point in the fight against racial injustice that has gripped the country since the May 25 killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.
First fatal shooting
During the nights after Blake’s shooting, dozens of fires were set and businesses were ransacked and destroyed. By Tuesday night, armed self-appointed militia members were on hand.
According to the criminal complaint against Rittenhouse, multiple videos show him carrying a Smith & Wesson AR-15-style .223 caliber rifle and a 30-round magazine. The complaint says the rifle and magazine were both recovered by law-enforcement officers.
One of the men allegedly killed by Rittenhouse was Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, of Kenosha.
The complaint, signed by Kenosha County Deputy District Attorney Angelina Gabriele and Assistant D.A. Carli McNeil, says videos show Rosenbaum throwing a plastic bag at Rittenhouse and show the two men later moving across a parking lot.
“A loud bang is heard on the video,” the prosecutors wrote. “Then a male shouts, ‘F--- you,’ then Rosenbaum appears to continue to approach the defendant and gets in near proximity to the defendant, when four more loud bangs are heard. Rosenbaum then falls to the ground”
A reporter removed his shirt and tried to give Rosenbaum first aid, when Rittenhouse appeared to make a cell phone call and began to run away, the complaint says.
“As the defendant is running away, he can be heard saying on the phone, ‘I just killed somebody,’ ” the prosecutors wrote.
The complaint says a friend of Rittenhouse’s told a detective he received a phone call from the defendant and that Rittenhouse said in the call that he had shot someone.
An autopsy showed Rosenbaum had gunshot wounds to the groin, back, hand, thigh and forehead, according to the complaint.
The alleged murder
The other man killed was Anthony Huber, 26, of Silver Lake, about 15 miles west of the city.
The complaint says a video shows people pursuing Rittenhouse down a road and yelling that he had shot someone. Then Rittenhouse tripped and fell to the pavement.
As the defendant is on the ground, an unidentified male “jumps at and over the defendant,” the complaint says, adding that it appears Rittenhouse fired two quick shots at this person but missed him.
Then Huber approached Rittenhouse, now on his back, the prosecutors wrote.
“The defendant rolls towards his left side and, as Huber appears to be trying to grab the gun, the gun is pointed at Huber’s body. The defendant then fires one round, which can be heard on the video. Huber staggers away, taking several steps, then collapses to the ground.”
Huber died from that round, which tore through his heart, aorta, pulmonary artery and right lung, the complaint says. The murder charge stems from his death.
Rittenhouse, still on the ground, pointed his gun at a third man — Gaige Grosskreutz, 26 — who had begun to approach him, according to the prosecutors.
When Rittenhouse shot Huber, “Grosskreutz freezes and ducks and takes a step back,” the complaint says.
“Grosskreutz puts his hands in the air [and] moves towards the defendant, who aims his gun at Grosskreutz and shoots him, firing one shot.”
Grosskreutz was shot in the right arm and appeared to be holding a handgun in his right hand at the time, the prosecutors wrote. He ran away from Rittenhouse and screamed for a medic.
Grosskreutz, of West Allis, Wisconsin, was volunteering as a medic when he was shot, according to Bethany Crevensten, who was also among the group of about two dozen activists.
“He was a hero and he is a hero,” she told the Associated Press.
Grosskreutz is recovering after surgery and is not yet giving interviews, Crevensten said.
Police let gunman walk away
Rittenhouse was arrested Wednesday in Illinois. He was assigned a public defender for a hearing Friday at the Lake County courthouse on his transfer to Wisconsin. Under Wisconsin law, anyone 17 or older is treated as an adult in the criminal justice system.
His attorney, Lin Wood, said the teenager was acting in self-defense.
“From my standpoint, it’s important that the message be clear to other Americans who are attacked that there will be legal resources available in the event false charges are brought against them,” he said. “Americans should never be deterred from exercising their right of self-defense.”
Kenosha police faced questions about their interactions with the gunman on Tuesday night. According to witness accounts and video footage, officers apparently let him walk past them and leave the scene with a rifle over his shoulder and his hands in the air, as crowd members yelled for him to be arrested because he had shot people.
As for how the gunman managed to slip away, Kenosha County Sheriff David Beth has described a chaotic, high-stress scene, with lots of radio traffic and people screaming, chanting and running — conditions he said can cause “tunnel vision” among law officers.
Video taken before the shooting shows police tossing bottled water from an armored vehicle and thanking civilians armed with long guns walking the streets. One of them appears to be the gunman.
The national and Wisconsin chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union on Thursday called for the resignation of Beth and Kenosha Police Chief Dan Miskinis over their handling of Blake’s shooting and the subsequent protests.
Blake, 29, was shot in the back seven times Sunday as he leaned into his SUV, in which three of his children were seated.
Wisconsin authorities have identified the officer who shot him as Rusten Sheskey, a seven-year veteran of the Kenosha Police Department.
Authorities said Sheskey was among officers who responded to a domestic dispute, though they have not said whether Blake was part of the dispute. Sheskey shot Blake while holding onto his shirt after officers unsuccessfully used a Taser on him, the Wisconsin Justice Department said. State agents later recovered a knife from the floor on the driver’s side of the vehicle, the department said. State authorities did not say Blake threatened anyone with a knife.
Ben Crump, the lawyer for Blake’s family, said Tuesday that it would “take a miracle” for Blake to walk again. He called for the arrest of Sheskey and for the others involved to lose their jobs. State officials have announced no charges.
In solidarity with Blake, Milwaukee Bucks players refused to play their NBA playoff game Wednesday. Much of the sports world was following the team’s lead by Thursday night.
Also Thursday, Wisconsin Lutheran College, located about 40 miles from Kenosha, said it canceled a planned Saturday commencement speech by Vice President Mike Pence, citing the unrest.
But four groups representing Wisconsin sheriffs and police departments on Thursday urged Democratic Gov. Tony Evers to stop making “premature, judgmental [and] inflammatory” comments about Blake’s shooting that they say “only add to the anger and divisiveness of an already dangerous situation.”
Evers has said he stands with everyone demanding justice, equity and accountability and against the excessive use of force against Black people.
State and federal responses
The governor has authorized the deployment of 500 members of the National Guard to Kenosha, doubling the number of troops in the city of 100,000. Officials on Thursday said Guard troops from Arizona, Michigan and Alabama were coming to Wisconsin to assist.
In Washington, the Justice Department said it was sending in more than 200 federal agents from the FBI, U.S. Marshals Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
By Thursday night, U.S. marshals in unmarked vehicles were assisting Kenosha police in arrests as they enforced a citywide curfew, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
In July, officers from the U.S. Marshals Special Operations Group and U.S. Customs and Border Protections Border Patrol Tactical Unit were deployed to Portland to guard federal property amid rioting. NPR reported that federal officers in Portland were using unmarked vehicles to take demonstrators in custody.
The Justice Department also announced that the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Wisconsin would conduct a civil rights investigation into Blake’s shooting in cooperation with Wisconsin state law enforcement agencies.