Protesters and the family of Jacob Blake hold a candle light vigil in Kenosha on Jan. 4, 2021. (Photo by Isiah Holmes)
The Kenosha Police Department’s tolerance of armed right-wing groups after the shooting of Jacob Blake triggered protests and civil unrest last year and is the subject of a newly filed lawsuit. The court filing, pushed by Attorney Kimberley Motley and other attorneys representing the sole survivor of the shooting which allegedly involved then-17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse, called the shooting “a natural consequence of the actions of the Kenosha Police Department and Kenosha Sheriff’s Office in deputizing a roving militia to ‘protect property’ and ‘assist in maintaining order’.’’
The lawsuit is brought on behalf of Gaige Grosskreutz, who was one of three people allegedly shot by Rittenhouse last August. Kenosha had been engulfed in protest for days, which metastasized into clashes with law enforcement, civil unrest, and property destruction in the evenings. Rittenhouse arrived on the second night, alongside dozens of other armed citizens.
The militia groups were mobilized by the Kenosha Guard Facebook page. Many comments on the page openly discussed intentions to shoot people who were considered looters, rioters or protesters. The page was also saturated with references in support of former President Donald Trump. Although onlookers attempted to report the page, Kenosha Guard wasn’t shut down by Facebook in time.
Rittenhouse was filmed at several points during the evening on Aug. 25, carrying an AR-15 style rifle. He had traveled to Kenosha from a town in Illinois, allegedly to guard businesses and property. Video also shows armed groups receiving praise and water from law enforcement officers in a large armored vehicle. This exchange is noted in the lawsuit, as is officers saying, “We appreciate you guys, we really do.” Meanwhile elsewhere in the city, groups of Black Lives Matter protesters were met with gas munitions, rubber bullets, and other aggressive tactics by officers. Some protest leaders also felt specifically targeted by what they called “snatch teams” of law enforcement.
In July, the Wisconsin Examiner reported on documents obtained via open records requests which shed light on how law enforcement viewed the armed groups. Text messages sent between various officers referred to the groups as “very friendly.” Several updates sent by officers showed that even during the curfew, people associated with these groups were not arrested or told to disperse as suspected protesters were. Federal officers from the U.S. Marshals Service also communicated to one another about pickup trucks full of armed people roving the neighborhoods. These marshals, however, indicated that they did not intend to arrest those individuals.
A half-hour before the shooting allegedly involving Rittenhouse, law enforcement texted that, “a caller reported armed counter-protesters slashed tires.” Some of those law enforcement communications, first reported by the Examiner, are referenced in the lawsuit. It also points to separate reports that law enforcement had purposely herded protesters towards armed groups. The unrest resulted in more than $50 million of property damage to the City of Kenosha.
Grosskreutz lost nearly 90% of his right bicep to the rifle round which struck his arm. Two others, Anthony Huber and Joseph Rosenbaum, were fatally shot. Huber was struck after hitting Rittenhouse in the head with his skateboard as Rittenhouse struggled for control of his rifle. The lawsuit alleges that Huber and others had been attempting to disarm the teenager. Grosskreutz, who had training as an EMT, was able to direct others in tending to his wounds until medics arrived. Video of the shooting quickly went viral online.
Rittenhouse was filmed approaching a line of police officers and, despite stating what happened, was allowed to leave the scene. He traveled back to Illinois where he turned himself in and was charged for the shooting by the Kenosha County District Attorney’s Office. Rittenhouse was later released on $2 million bail, and has remained free pending further court proceedings. Following the shooting, former President Trump expressed sympathies for Rittenhouse. His mother later received a standing ovation at a GOP event. The lawsuit states that if the presence of armed right-wing groups had not been tolerated by officers, the shootings might not have occurred.
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