Kenosha police ‘deputized’ militia ahead of deadly shooting, lawsuit claims

By Brad Brooks

(Reuters) -A man shot by U.S. teenager Kyle Rittenhouse during racial justice protests in Wisconsin last year has filed a lawsuit against local law enforcement he accuses of deputizing a “roving militia” of white nationalists.

Gaige Grosskreutz filed the lawsuit in federal court on Thursday. He was one of three people shot by Rittenhouse, two of whom died. Rittenhouse faces trial on homicide and attempted homicide charges next month in the August 2020 shooting in Kenosha.

“It was not a mistake that Kyle Rittenhouse would kill two people and maim a third on that evening,” Grosskreutz’s lawsuit said. “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.'”

Sam Hall, an attorney representing Kenosha County and Sheriff David Beth, said in an emailed statement that the allegations in the lawsuit were false and that he would seek to have the complaint dismissed.

Grosskreutz’s lawsuit names Kenosha county and city, along with the police and sheriff’s department and individual officers. The Kenosha city and police department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Rittenhouse is awaiting trial in November on charges of first-degree intentional homicide and first-degree reckless homicide in the killings of Anthony Huber and Joseph Rosenbaum, and attempted first degree intentional homicide and use of a dangerous weapon in Grosskreutz’s shooting. Rittenhouse also is charged with weapons violations and other crimes during the protest.

In August, Huber’s family filed a lawsuit similar to Grosskreutz’s, which claims local law enforcement officers “and white nationalist militia persons discussed and coordinated strategy.”

Grosskreutz’s lawsuit said that members of a militia called the Kenosha Guard and others arrived at the protest at the invitation via Facebook of Kevin Mathewson, a former Kenosha City Council member. It said they were openly brandishing weapons and threatening those taking part in demonstrations protesting the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha.

The lawsuit said unnamed militia members intended to kill protesters they said were rioting and looting.

It also cites an email Mathewson sent to the police chief, which according to the lawsuit said, “as you know, I am the commander of the Kenosha Guard, a local militia” and that “we are mobilizing tonight and have about 3,000 RSVP’s.”

Mathewson, who works as a private investigator, told Reuters that the Kenosha Guard was actually an “ad hoc” group of ordinary citizens, including Black and Latino members, who had never met before the night of the Rittenhouse shooting, and never carried out any training.

Mathewson said the group organized to protect their neighborhoods after racial justice protests held a few months before the Rittenhouse shooting resulted in some local businesses being burned and looted. He rejected any notion that the Kenosha Guard was a white nationalist militia.

“It’s just not true, it’s a silly assertion,” he said.

The lawsuit said the social media posts made clear that the militia members were not at the protest to protect local businesses or contracted for security by any local stores.

(Reporting by Brad Brooks, Editing by Donna Bryson and Rosalba O’Brien)