MILWAUKEE (CN) — A man shot by a counterprotester at an anti-police brutality demonstration in Kenosha, Wisconsin, last year sued the city, county, law enforcement chiefs and unknown cops late Thursday, saying they coordinated with right-wing militia members to use violence and threats to unconstitutionally clamp down on protesters.
The complaint from Gaige Grosskreutz – one of three people shot by Kyle Rittenhouse at a protest over the police shooting of Black man Jacob Blake on Aug. 25, 2020 – charges that Kenosha cops and law enforcement brass knew right-wing and white nationalist militias were plotting violence against protesters and aided their cause by condoning their vigilantism and targeting only the racially diverse group of protesters to deprive them of their constitutional rights.
Grosskreutz survived being shot in the bicep by then-17-year-old Rittenhouse – who came from his mother’s house in Illinois and joined counterprotesters with an illegally acquired AR-15 – but Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, and Anthony Huber, 26, were killed. Huber’s father brought a lawsuit similar to Grosskreutz’s in the same Milwaukee federal court in August.
Rittenhouse, now 18, is free on bail and facing murder charges, with a trial slated to begin with jury selection in Kenosha County Circuit Court on Nov. 1. His attorneys say Rittenhouse shot in self-defense while being chased by a crowd of protesters.
In his filing, Grosskreutz claims law enforcement blatantly offered words of encouragement to illegally armed militia members at the protest, including Rittenhouse, despite their violent intentions and only arrested protesters for their conduct, including for violating an 8 p.m. emergency curfew.
“Earlier in the evening Kenosha law enforcement officers and white nationalist militia persons discussed and coordinated strategy,” the complaint states. “It was not a mistake that Kyle Rittenhouse would kill two people and maim a third on that evening. It was a natural consequence of the actions of the Kenosha Police Department and Kenosha Sheriff’s Office in deputizing a roving militia to ‘protect property’ and ‘assist in maintaining order.’”
The complaint makes the case that Rittenhouse’s actions and the actions of other militia members were ratified by law enforcement, including those who offered Rittenhouse and others water and words of appreciation before Rittenhouse started shooting and those that allowed him to flee unimpeded after the shootings despite protesters yelling that he had just shot someone.
Grosskreutz is represented by international human rights and civil rights attorney Kimberly Motley and Milo Schwab with Denver-based Ascend Counsel.
The lawsuit names as defendants the city and county of Kenosha, unknown police officers, Kenosha County Sheriff David Beth, former Kenosha chief of police Daniel Miskinis and current chief Eric Larsen.
Its 15 claims for relief include two conspiracy charges and violations of the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection and due process protections, as well as claims of assault, battery and municipal liability against the city and county of Kenosha.
According to the complaint, the defendants were well aware of the militias’ plans on Aug. 25, 2020, in part due to a Facebook post from Kevin Mathewson, a former Kenosha City Council member and the head of a local militia-style group dubbed the Kenosha Guard, calling for “patriots willing to take up arms and defend our city tonight against the evil thugs,” which drew hundreds of responses from individuals indicating they would be attending the protest.
The lawsuit lists responses to that post waving off the idea of a peaceful counterprotest and endorsing a shoot-to-kill mentality for vigilantes in attendance.
“Counter protest? Nah. I fully plan to kill looters and rioters tonight,” reads one comment. Another simply reads: “Armed and ready. Shoot to kill tonight.”
Mathewson, calling himself the commander of the Kenosha Guard, also directly emailed then-Chief of Police David Miskinis and another police official announcing, “we are mobilizing tonight and have about 3,000 RSVP’s,” before posting the email as an open letter to the chief on social media.
According to the lawsuit, these communications make clear that the counterprotesters’ intentions were not to protect homes or businesses but to patrol the streets as armed law enforcement proxies and harm protesters, which the law enforcement defendants were alerted of ahead of time.
The upshot of the filing’s charges is that there were two sets of laws on the night of the protest shootings: one set for the white, pro-police militias, and one set for the diverse group of protesters criticizing the police, tainted by biases based on both race and loyalty to law enforcement. The complaint notes that 150 protesters were arrested for violating the 8 p.m. curfew, whereas “not a single one of the armed individuals was arrested by defendants for violating the same curfew order.”
Public information officers with the Kenosha County Sheriff’s Office and the Kenosha County Police Department did not immediately respond to voicemails requesting comment on Grosskreutz’s lawsuit on Friday.
Samuel Hall, an attorney for the Kenosha County sheriff in Grosskreutz and Huber’s lawsuits, said Friday that “the allegations against Sheriff Beth and the Kenosha County 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 this lawsuit against the person who actually shot him,” Hall continued. “Sheriff Beth and Kenosha County plan to promptly file a motion to dismiss this case.”
Grosskreutz, a trained medic with a concealed-carry permit, was armed with a handgun on the night of the protest, as well as a medic bag from which a tourniquet was retrieved to use on his arm after he was shot.