KENOSHA, Wis. (Reuters) – A high-profile lawyer representing the 17-year-old boy charged with killing two protesters and wounding another during demonstrations on the streets of Kenosha, Wisconsin, said on Friday that his client had acted in self-defense.
Atlanta-based attorney Lin Wood said video footage of the altercation would vindicate Kyle Rittenhouse despite what he described as misinformation being spread by the media.
“Kyle Rittenhouse acted in self-defense. Murder charges are factually unsupportable. An egregious miscarriage of justice is occurring with respect to this 17-year old boy,” Wood said on Twitter.
Rittenhouse, who prosecutors say traveled 30 miles (50 km) to Kenosha from his home in Antioch, Illinois, before the shooting at about 11:45 p.m. on Tuesday, is charged with six criminal counts, including first-degree homicide and attempted homicide.
Prosecutors accuse Rittenhouse of firing an assault-style rifle at three protesters who tried to subdue him, killing 36-year-old Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber, 26.
The criminal complaint cites as evidence several videos recorded by witnesses, including one in which Rittenhouse is seen calling a friend from the scene and telling them: “I just killed somebody.”
An Illinois judge on Friday postponed his extradition to Wisconsin while the teenaged defendant arranged a private legal team. Rittenhouse, a former YMCA lifeguard who is being held without bond, did not appear at the livestreamed hearing.
SUMMER OF PROTESTS
The shooting of Jacob Blake, 29, in front of three of his children has turned Kenosha, a predominantly white city of about 100,000 people on Lake Michigan, into the latest flashpoint in ongoing nationwide protests over police brutality and racism.
It also galvanized demonstrators who gathered in Washington on Friday to commemorate the 1963 march where Martin Luther King Jr made his historic “I Have a Dream” speech.
The summer of protests first ignited after video footage showed a Minneapolis police officer kneeling on the neck of a Black man, George Floyd. Floyd later died, and the since-fired officer has been charged with murder.
Blake, who was left paralyzed by the shooting, had been handcuffed to a hospital bed because of an outstanding arrest warrant. The handcuffs were removed on Friday and officers guarding Blake stood down after the warrant was vacated, his attorney, Pat Cafferty, told Reuters.
The warrant was based on a criminal complaint filed against Blake in July based on statements made by his ex-girlfriend, the mother of three of his children, that was released to Reuters on Friday.
The woman told police Blake broke into her home on May 3 and sexually assaulted her before stealing her truck and debit card.
Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul said this week that police confronted Blake when called to the home of a woman who had reported her “boyfriend was present” without permission, and officers tried to arrest him. Kaul said efforts to subdue Blake with a Taser failed, and that investigators later recovered a knife from the floor of the car that Blake was leaning into when he was shot.
On Friday, the Kenosha police union defended the officers, saying Blake was armed with a knife, fought the officers and was given several chances to cooperate before they used deadly force. This account, in a statement by union lawyer Brendan Matthews, said the scuffle with police included Blake “putting one of the officers in a headlock.”
Blake’s lead attorney, Ben Crump, has said his client was not armed with a knife and did not provoke or threaten police.
‘WE LOVE KENOSHA’
In Kenosha, volunteers helped business owners clean up after days of arson and vandalism that followed Blake’s shooting, some painting “Black Lives Matter” or “We Love Kenosha” on boarded up storefronts.
“I’m angry,” said factory worker John Hall as he helped paint messages on a storefront. “Some people who did this don’t even live here. This is the only stores that we have.”
Later on Friday afternoon about 150 people marched through the streets of Kenosha and attended a vigil for Blake in a park near the courthouse that had been a focal point for skirmishes with police earlier in the week.
“Jacob Blake was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” said Nick Larsen, 30, an owner of a fitness company, at the vigil.
The march was peaceful, and calm prevailed for a third night, though more than 1,000 National Guard members were on the ground in Kenosha on Friday in case of further violence, Major General Paul Knapp told a news conference.
Protest organizers have planned a large march in the city for Saturday afternoon.
Demonstrators demand that criminal charges be filed against three police officers involved in Blake’s arrest and shooting. Authorities say officer Rusten Sheskey fired all seven shots at Blake’s back.
The Wisconsin Justice Department, which is handling the investigation, said on Friday that Sheskey, a seven-year veteran of the force, and fellow officer Vincent Arenas, who joined the department in February 2019, attempted to stop Blake with Tasers before Sheskey opened fire.
The department identified a third officer involved as Brittany Meronek, who joined the force last January. All three have been placed on administrative leave.
(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien and Brendan McDermid in Kenosha, Rich McKay in Atlanta, Maria Caspani and Barbara Goldberg in New York, Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Writing by Nathan Layne and Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Daniel Wallis and William Mallard)