Kenosha officials say they’ll be more ‘assertive’ against protesters, don’t address videos of Tuesday shootings

Kenosha County Sheriff's clad in riot equipment form a line in front of city hall. (Photo by Isiah Holmes)
Kenosha County Sheriff's clad in riot equipment form a line in front of city hall. (Photo by Isiah Holmes)

City, county and state officials refused to respond to questions about social media videos showing law enforcement officers sharing water and saying they “appreciate” armed counter-protesters shortly before one of those self-styled militia members  opened fire, killing  two protesters and leaving one hospitalized in Kenosha Tuesday night. 

At a news conference Wednesday, Kenosha County Sheriff David Beth said his deputies would share water with anybody they come across, while not addressing other aspects of the videos, which appear to show 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse speaking with officers.

Separate social media videos show Rittenhouse speaking with the officers and then, later,  shooting three people. 

Tuesday was the third straight day of protests against racial injustice after Kenosha police officers shot resident Jacob Blake in the back seven times on Sunday night. 

Officials said on Wednesday that two people are dead — a 26-year-old Silver Lake resident and a 36-year-old Kenosha resident — and one is injured. Rittenhouse, a resident of Antioch, Illinois, is in custody in that state on fugitive from justice charges

“Many of you are aware of a shooting incident that took place last night in Kenosha, reportedly involving a Village of Antioch teen,” the Antioch Police Department said in a statement. “Since this shooting incident took place, the Antioch Police Department has been tirelessly working with our law enforcement partners in Kenosha, to bring the matter to a safe and peaceful resolution.”

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Charges have not yet been filed in Wisconsin but the Illinois criminal complaint states that Rittenhouse is wanted on charges of first degree intentional homicide. Beth said the investigation into Rittenhouse is being handled by the Kenosha Police Department and the FBI. 

While law enforcement wouldn’t answer questions about the social media videos, Beth and Kenosha Police Chief Daniel Miskinis said that they’d prefer that people not come to protests armed. Rittenhouse was seen on social media carrying and shooting a long gun. 

“I don’t want violence regardless of which side of any issue you’re on,” Miskinis said. “So showing up with firearms doesn’t do us any good.” 

After the shootings, video shows Rittenhouse walking past law enforcement officers with his hands raised. He was not apprehended on Tuesday and fled to Illinois. 

Beth said that officers may not have seen Rittenhouse and could have been distracted by the noise and chaos on the street. 

“There’s screaming, there’s hollering, there’s chanting, there’s a squad car running, there’s MRAPs and bearcats idling,” Beth said. “If the officer was in the car, the radio traffic was nonstop and there were people running all over the place. In situations that are high stress, you have such tunnel vision, you have no idea what’s outside … I’m not making an excuse, I’m just telling you from personal experience what could’ve done that.” 

In response to Sunday’s police shooting of Blake and the Wednesday deaths, Kenosha initially imposed an 8 p.m. curfew, which will be moved to 7 p.m. on Wednesday night. Miskinis said that if the protesters who were killed hadn’t been out past the curfew, they would have been safe. 

With the earlier curfew, officials said that for future protests they would be much more “assertive” in enforcing it — which they said was intended to keep people safe. 

“We’re going to be very assertive in taking these people,” Beth said. “If you don’t follow the curfew. We’re going to do our best to take you into custody for that violation.”

Beth said that police departments and sheriff’s offices from across the state, in addition to the Wisconsin National Guard, FBI, ATF, U.S. Marshals and the national guards of other states, will be supporting the city moving forward. 

Rittenhouse is in custody in Illinois and is being represented by a public defender; he has an extradition hearing scheduled for Aug. 28 at 9 a.m.