Prosecutors on Thursday charged a 17-year-old from Illinois in the fatal shooting of two protesters and the wounding of a third in Kenosha, Wisconsin, during a night of unrest following the weekend police shooting of Jacob Blake.
Kyle Rittenhouse faces charges of first-degree intentional homicide, one count of first-degree reckless homicide, one count of attempted first-degree intentional homicide and two counts of first-degree reckless endangerment. He would face a mandatory life sentence if convicted of first-degree intentional homicide, the most serious crime in Wisconsin.
The attack late Tuesday — largely caught on cellphone video and posted online — and the shooting by police Sunday 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 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody.
Kenosha police faced questions about their interactions with the gunman on Tuesday night. According to witness accounts and video footage, police apparently let the gunman walk past them and leave the scene with a rifle over his shoulder and his hands in the air, as members of the crowd 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 state 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 death and the subsequent protests.
Rittenhouse, of Antioch, Illinois, about 15 miles (24 kilometers) from Kenosha, was taken into custody Wednesday in Illinois. He was assigned a public defender in Illinois for a hearing Friday on his transfer to Wisconsin. Under Wisconsin law, anyone 17 or older is treated as an adult in the criminal justice system.
Rittenhouse’s attorney, Lin Wood, said the teenager was acting in self-defense. Cellphone footage shows the shooter being chased into a used car lot by someone before shots are heard and the person lies dead. The shooter then runs down the street where he is chased by several people shouting that he just shot someone. He stumbles after being approached by several more people and fires, killing another man and injuring a third.
“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’s streets were calm Thursday following a night of peaceful protests and no widespread unrest for the first time since Blake’s shooting. There were no groups patrolling Kenosha’s streets with long guns Wednesday night and protesters stayed away from a courthouse that had been the site of standoffs with law enforcement.
During unrest the previous two nights, dozens of fires were set and businesses were ransacked and destroyed.
Protesters marched past the intersection where two people were killed Tuesday night, stopping to pray and lay flowers.
The two men killed were Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, of Kenosha, and Anthony Huber, 26, of Silver Lake, about 15 miles (24 kilometers) west of the city.
A third man was injured. Gaige Grosskreutz, 26, was volunteering as a medic when he was shot, said Bethany Crevensten who was also among the group of about two dozen activists.
“He was a hero and he is a hero,” she said.
Grosskreutz, of West Allis, about 30 miles (48 kilometers) northwest of Kenosha, is recovering after surgery and is not yet giving interviews, Crevensten said.
Blake was shot in the back seven times Sunday as he leaned into his SUV, in which three of his children were seated.
State authorities have identified the officer who shot Blake 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.
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.
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.
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. Guard troops from Arizona, Michigan and Alabama were coming to Wisconsin to assist, Evers said Thursday. He did not say how many.
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. The White House said up to 2,000 National Guard troops would be made available. The Justice Department also announced that the U.S. attorney’s office and FBI would conduct a civil rights investigation into the shooting of Blake, in cooperation with Wisconsin state law enforcement agencies.