A new federal civil rights lawsuit accuses Kenosha law enforcement officials of conspiring with armed militias last year to intimidate protesters and create the chaos that led to deadly shootings by an Illinois teenager.
Gaige Grosskreutz’s lawsuit contends police and sheriff’s deputies in effect deputized “a band of white nationalist vigilantes” the night of Aug. 25, and coordinated with them to protect property and help maintain order in Kenosha during the third night of protests that followed the police shooting of Jacob Blake.
Among them was Illinois teenager Kyle Rittenhouse, who fatally shot two people with his assault-style rifle before shooting Grosskreutz in the arm. Rittenhouse, 18, faces trial next month on charges ranging from homicide to curfew violation. His attorneys say he acted in lawful self-defense.
The lawsuit, filed Thursday in federal court in Milwaukee, calls Rittenhouse’s actions “a natural consequence” of law enforcement’s decisions that night.
The complaint opens with a quote from video taken that night, of law enforcement officials telling a group of armed men that included Rittenhouse, “We appreciate you guys — we really do.”
Earlier that day, after two nights of demonstrations over the Blake shooting had led to rioting, looting and arson, a former Kenosha alderman, Kevin Mathewson, used a Facebook account he had created for the Kenosha Guard to solicit “patriots willing to take up arms and defend our City tonight against the evil thugs.”
The lawsuit says Mathewson wrote to then-Kenosha Police Chief Daniel Miskinis and the Police Department’s public information officer, telling them the Kenosha Guard was mobilizing and that about 3,000 people had responded to the Facebook post with intentions of coming to Kenosha.
Neither Miskinis nor Sheriff David Beth “made any attempt to dissuade
Mathewson or any other armed individuals from showing up in Kenosha to patrol the streets,” according to the lawsuit.
Miskinis, Beth and current Kenosha Police Chief Eric Larsen are named as defendants, along with the city, county and “John Doe” officers. Samuel Hall, an attorney for Beth and his office, called the allegations false and said he will move to have the case dismissed.
Rittenhouse’s attorneys have said he didn’t see Mathewson’s post and wasn’t responding to it but had gone with a friend to guard one specific car dealership that had three lots along Sheridan Road in the heart of the protest zone. They deny he had any interest in militias or white supremacy.
According to the lawsuit, Anthony Huber struck Rittenhouse with his skateboard in an attempt to disarm him after Rittenhouse had killed Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, a few moments earlier a couple of blocks away. Rittenhouse fatally shot Huber.
Grosskreutz, 27, of Milwaukee, was at the protests and saw Huber, 26, get shot. He then raised his hands and approached Rittenhouse, who was sitting in the street, when Rittenhouse shot him, destroying about 90% of Grosskreutz’s right bicep.
If Grosskreutz, a paramedic, had not had his own tourniquet and knew how to use it, he may also have died, the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit does not mention that, as is visible in bystander video of the shootings, Grosskreutz had a handgun in his left hand when he was shot. His attorney, Kimberley Motley, declined to answer questions about the suit.
The lawsuit says by allowing the armed white men to act freely, in violation of curfew, and showing them appreciation and support, police were making a decision to punish anti-police protesters, and protect the pro-police forces.
Police enforced curfews against people protesting police violence, and not against any of the armed, militia-style men present that night, according to the lawsuit and an earlier case filed by the same attorneys for a group of protesters. A judge has largely dismissed those claims but left room for the plaintiffs to refile some of them.
“However, it was not a failure to ensure basic law and order. It was a deliberate choice to attempt to privatize their desired use of the force of the state to punish protesters for the content of their message in opposition to police violence and racism endemic in the Kenosha Police Department,” the lawsuit states.
That night, according to Grosskreutz, police allowed the “all-White armed individuals —many of whom had openly espoused racist and violent intentions — to taunt, threaten and monitor the diverse group of protestors,” while ordering racially diverse protesters to disperse and herding them toward the armed groups to “deal with them.”
The 33-page complaint lists 15 causes of action, from conspiracy to deprive Grosskreutz of his civil rights and obstruct justice, to violations of due process and equal protection, as well as First Amendment retaliation, assault, battery and infliction of emotional distress. It includes claims of negligent hiring, training and supervision of officers, failure of some to intervene against unlawful acts, and counts to hold the city and county liable for the actions of their employees.
It seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, along with “injunctive relief to prevent future violations of the law.”
Follow Bruce Vielmetti on Twitter at @ProofHearsay.