A Protester Shot by Kyle Rittenhouse Sues Kenosha, Wisconsin, Says Police Deputized 'Vigilantes'

Kim Bellware / The Washington Post
A Protester Shot by Kyle Rittenhouse Sues Kenosha, Wisconsin, Says Police Deputized 'Vigilantes' Gaige Grosskreutz, poses for a portrait at a park in Milwaukee on Sept. 26, 2020. Grosskreutz, who attended close to 100 nights of Black Lives Matter protests, lost part of his right biceps after being shot by Kyle Rittenhouse at a protest in Kenosha, Wis., but survived. (photo: Lauren Justice/WP)

Police deputized a “band of white nationalist vigilantes” during last year’s racial justice protests in Kenosha, Wis., where Kyle Rittenhouse fatally shot two people and injured a third, the lone survivor of the incident alleges in a new lawsuit.

Gaige Grosskreutz, 27, filed the lawsuit Thursday in federal court in Milwaukee, just weeks before Rittenhouse’s murder trial is set to begin. It marks the second major legal action against the city and county of Kenosha since the Aug. 25, 2020, riot where Rittenhouse shot three people: Grosskreutz, who lost a chunk of his biceps but survived; Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, and Anthony Huber, 26, who both died.

Rittenhouse, 18, whose trial is set to begin Nov. 1, faces homicide charges in both deaths and an attempted homicide charge for shooting Grosskreutz as well as a charge for being a minor in possession of a firearm. Rittenhouse has pleaded not guilty to all charges and his attorneys are expected to argue that he acted in self-defense.

Grosskreutz’s complaint names both the city and county, which oversee their respective law enforcement agencies, as defendants. Kenosha Police Chief Eric Larsen, Kenosha County Sheriff David Beth and former Kenosha police chief Daniel Miskinis are individually named as well. It seeks a jury trial as well as unspecified punitive and compensatory damages.

Attorneys for the municipal agencies did not immediately respond to requests for comment Saturday. Attorney Sam Hill, who is representing Beth, rejected allegations in the lawsuit as false and said in a statement to multiple media outlets he would move to have the complaint thrown out.

The suit focuses heavily on law enforcement’s response in August 2020 when Kenosha had been gripped by protests — and later, riots — in the days after a White Kenosha police officer shot Jacob Blake, a now-30-year-old Black man. Officer Rusten Sheskey shot Blake at least seven times in the back as Blake was getting into his car; three of Blake’s children were present. The shooting damaged Blake’s stomach, kidney and liver, required removal of most of his small intestines and his colon and left him paralyzed from the waist down. The Justice Department recently declined to bring charges against Sheskey.

Grosskreutz was in Kenosha protesting the police response, which included firing tear gas and rubber bullets on demonstrators. The lawsuit contrasts that response with the way police treated White counterprotesters, even when the White protesters were armed.

The complaint opens with words a law enforcement officer spoke to Rittenhouse that night: “We appreciate you guys — we really do.”

“These were the words of Kenosha law enforcement officers — words of encouragement, appreciation, and thanks, spoken to Kyle Rittenhouse and a band of white nationalist vigilantes on the evening of August 25, 2020,” the complaint states.

According to cellphone video of the scene, Rosenbaum and Rittenhouse appear to argue, and Rosenbaum throws a plastic bag at the teen while running after him. An eyewitness said Rittenhouse was pointing his gun toward Rosenbaum and shot him after Rosenbaum tried to lean in and grab the gun.

After Rittenhouse fled the scene, protesters and other bystanders who eventually identify him as the shooter begin to chase him. Huber and Grosskreutz are among those pursuing Rittenhouse, who trips and falls as he tries to run. From the ground, he fires at Huber, who is holding a skateboard, and then shoots Grosskreutz as he approaches.

Grosskreutz told CNN last year that he believes in the right to peacefully protest and bear arms — which he said he did legally, unlike Rittenhouse, who was too young at the time to legally possess a dangerous weapon. Rittenhouse was 17 at the time.

“Nobody should have been hurt or died that night,” he said. “I never fired my weapon that night. I was there to help people, not hurt people.”

The complaint alleges police allowed Rittenhouse to walk away after shooting three people, making no effort to arrest, disarm or even question him. Officers did not stop the teen even as he approached them with his hands up after the shooting.

“The only reason Defendants allowed Rittenhouse to walk away after shooting three people was because he was white and because he was affiliated with their compatriots, who had Defendants’ explicit support,” the complaint said.

The night of the riots, Rittenhouse drove 20 miles from Antioch, Ill., to Kenosha, armed with an AR-15-style semiautomatic rifle. He was allegedly prompted by a call-to-action via a Facebook group calling itself the Kenosha Guard. Former Kenosha city alderman Kevin Mathewson, who helped organize the action, wrote in the call out for neighbors to “take up arms to defend our City tonight from the evil thugs.”

The Kenosha Guard later denied having any affiliation with Rittenhouse. Mathewson told The Washington Post the day after the 2020 shooting that he was calling on citizens to protect residences and property and that law enforcement on the scene had a “positive” reaction to the citizen mobilization.

“They were handing out water to some of us, thanking us and greeting us very warmly,” he said at the time.

Claims in Grosskreutz’s case echo those in the lawsuit Huber’s family filed in August alleging that the city and its police and county sheriff’s departments openly conspired with White militia members, which gave them “license … to wreak havoc and inflict injury.” If Rittenhouse were Black, the complaint from Huber’s family reads, the “defendants would have acted much differently.”

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