Prosecutors have charged a 17-year-old from Illinois in the fatal shooting of two protesters in Kenosha, Wis., and the wounding of a third.
Kenosha County District Attorney Michael Graveley filed the charges against Kyle Rittenhouse on Thursday afternoon. The charges include one count 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. All those charges are felonies.
He could face a mandatory life sentence if convicted of first-degree intentional homicide, the most serious crime in Wisconsin.
The two men who were killed were Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, of Kenosha, and Anthony Huber, 26, of Silver Lake, Wis., about 25 kilometres west of the city. The wounded person, Gaige Grosskreutz, 26, of West Allis, about 50 kilometres northwest of Kenosha, was expected to survive, police said.
Rittenhouse was assigned a public defender in Illinois for a hearing Friday on his transfer to Wisconsin. The public defender’s office had no comment. Under Wisconsin law, anyone 17 or older is treated as an adult in the criminal justice system.
Streets quiet Wednesday night
Groups that had taken to Kenosha’s streets with long guns earlier in the week were nowhere to be seen early Thursday following sombre protests and no widespread unrest for the first night since the weekend police shooting of Jacob Blake.
Marchers were solemn during Wednesday night’s protests in the southeastern Wisconsin city between Milwaukee and Chicago following the chaos of the previous night, when authorities say a 17-year-old from a nearby Illinois community killed two demonstrators and wounded a third in shootings largely caught on cellphone video and posted online.
The attack late Tuesday 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.
In solidarity, Milwaukee Bucks players refused to play their playoff game Wednesday, temporarily halting the NBA season. Three Major League Baseball games were delayed because players refused to take the field and several NFL teams cancelled their Thursday practices.
Also Thursday, Wisconsin Lutheran College located about 65 kilometres from Kenosha said it cancelled a planned Saturday commencement speech by U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence, citing the unrest.
There were no groups patrolling Kenosha’s streets with long guns Wednesday night as there had been during previous nights’ protests. Protesters also stayed away from a courthouse that had been the site of standoffs with law enforcement. Unlike the previous two nights, when dozens of fires were set and businesses were ransacked and destroyed, there was no widespread unrest.
WATCH | Donald Trump credits the National Guard with the overnight calm:
Protesters marched past the intersection where two people were killed Tuesday night, stopping to gather around the spot where one person was shot, and to pray and lay flowers. Daijon Spann said he decided to join the demonstration because one of those killed the night before was a friend.
“I couldn’t take it any more,” he said. “I couldn’t just sit there and watch my friend die.”
Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers 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.
Kenosha police questioned on 2 fronts
While the investigation into the shooting of Blake proceeded on one track, Kenosha police faced questions about their interactions with the gunman the night of the killings. 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 were yelling for him to be arrested because he had shot people.
WATCH | Kamala Harris calls the shooting of Jacob Blake ‘sickening’:
As for how the gunman managed to slip away, Sheriff David Beth 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 armoured vehicle and thanking armed civilians walking the streets. One of them appears to be the gunman.
WATCH | The gunman is seen walking, unimpeded, past police cars in Kenosha, Wis.:
Much of Rittenhouse’s Facebook page is devoted to praising law enforcement, with references to Blue Lives Matter, a movement that supports police. In photos posted on his page, which has since been locked down, he also can be seen holding an assault rifle. In a photo posted on his mother’s page, he is wearing what appears to be a blue law enforcement uniform as well as the kind of brimmed hat that state troopers wear.
Blake was shot in the back seven times Sunday as he leaned into his SUV, in which three of his children were seated.
On Wednesday — three days after the shooting — state authorities 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 first unsuccessfully used a Taser, 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 the 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.