Police in Wisconsin "deputized" armed vigilantes during protests against police violence last year, including Kyle Rittenhouse, who fatally shot two people and wounded another person, the man who was wounded alleges in a federal lawsuit.
In the suit, filed Thursday in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, Gaige Grosskreutz, 27, who was shot in his right arm by Rittenhouse, alleges that Kenosha officials enabled a "band of white nationalist vigilantes" during a protest in Kenosha on Aug. 25, 2020.
Rittenhouse, then 17, fatally shot two protesters and wounded Grosskreutz.
Named as defendants are the city of Kenosha, Kenosha County, Kenosha police and the Kenosha County Sheriff's Department. Rittenhouse is not named as a defendant.
"Defendants invited, deputized, authorized, conspired with, and ratified the actions of Rittenhouse, a child illegally in possession of an assault rifle, who roamed the street in violation of an emergency curfew order, threatening protesters with his weapon of war, and shooting innocent civilians, killing two, seriously injuring a third, and narrowly missing a fourth," the lawsuit says.
A spokesperson representing the city and the police department declined to comment Monday.
Lawyer Sam Hall, who is representing Kenosha County and Sheriff David Beth, said in a statement: "The allegations against Sheriff Beth and the Kenosha Sheriff's Office are false. The lawsuit also fails to acknowledge that Mr. Grosskreutz was himself armed with a firearm when he was shot and Mr. Grosskreutz failed to file the lawsuit against the person who actually shot him."
Rittenhouse, carrying an AR-15-style semiautomatic rifle, fatally shot Joseph Rosenbaum in the parking lot of a used car dealership. Moments later, he fatally shot Anthony Huber. And seconds later, he shot and wounded Grosskreutz.
On the night of the shootings, Kenosha was in the throes of several nights of chaotic protests after a white police officer shot Jacob Blake in the back during a domestic disturbance. Blake, who is Black, was paralyzed below his waist.
The lawsuit, which seeks a jury trial and compensatory and punitive damages, lists more than a dozen claims, among them that the defendants deprived Grosskreutz of his equal protection rights, retaliated against his First Amendment rights and conspired to deprive him of his constitutional rights.
The lawsuit claims that Grosskreutz, who is white, and a group of racially diverse protesters were treated differently from how armed white people were treated. The suit alleges that law enforcement officers viewed the armed white people as sympathetic toward Kenosha police and sheriff's deputies working at the protest.
"For example, at 9:57 p.m., a Kenosha Police Sergeant sent a message to all officers through the Department's internal messaging system noting the presence of armed individuals patrolling the streets in violation of the curfew order," the lawsuit claims.
"Rather than take any steps to detain, dissuade, or disarm these individuals, a KPD Sergeant made clear that they were not to be detained, dissuaded, or disarmed, calling the armed individuals in blatant violation of the curfew order 'very friendly,'" it says.
Police "deliberately orchestrated these circumstances," the lawsuit says. "A clear message was sent that anti-police brutality demonstrators were required to disperse, while armed individuals who supported law enforcement could roam free and assist the officers."
When he was asked why Rittenhouse was not named a defendant, Grosskreutz's attorney, Milo Schwab, said it was "inappropriate" to comment because Rittenhouse's trial begins soon. He also said Grosskreutz was in "possession of a weapon" during the protest.
It is indicative of police culture that the defendants' reply to the lawsuit was not to deny that "Rittenhouse was working with them" but to imply that Rittenhouse was "justified" in shooting Grosskreutz, he said.
Rittenhouse's trial is scheduled to begin Nov. 1. Some conservatives and advocates of gun rights, who have hailed him for standing up to protesters, raised $2 million for his bail in November.