Kenosha County sheriff says shooting suspect may have been among group that sought to be deputized

The Daily Caller’s Richie McGinniss on chaos in Kenosha, interviewing suspected gunman

Two people were killed during the third night of unrest in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

The teenage suspect arrested after two people were fatally shot during a third night of protests in the wake of the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis., might have been part of a group that sought to be deputized hours earlier, an official said.

Kenosha County Sheriff David Beth said during a Wednesday press conference he believed the suspect – whom authorities identified as 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse — might have been part of a group of armed individuals who asked to be deputized and allowed to patrol the streets of the Wisconsin city ahead of Tuesday night's protests.

“Yesterday, I had a person call me and say, ‘Why don’t you deputize citizens who have guns to come out and patrol the city of Kenosha?’” he told reporters on Wednesday. “And I’m like, ‘Oh hell no.’”

Once Beth deputizes someone, he said, they fall under his guidance and, in turn, become a liability “to me and the county and the state of Wisconsin.”

“I don’t know this for sure, but the incident that happened last night where two people lost their lives, I think they were part of this group that wanted me to deputize them,” he said.

He added that if he would have approved the request, it would have resulted in “one deputy sheriff who killed two people.”

Rittenhouse, of Antioch, Ill., which is about 15 miles from Kenosha, was taken into custody in Illinois on suspicion of first-degree intentional homicide in the attack Tuesday that was largely captured on cellphone video. The shooting left a third person wounded.

WARNING: VIDEO BELOW CONTAINS GRAPHIC IMAGES

The deceased victims were identified only as a 26-year-old Silver Lake, Wis., resident and a 36-year-old from Kenosha. The wounded person, a 36-year-old from West Allis, Wis., was expected to survive, police said.

According to witness accounts and video footage, police let a gunman walk past them and leave the scene with a rifle over his shoulder and his hands in the air as members of the crowd were yelling for him to be arrested because he had shot people.

Sheriff Beth described a chaotic, high-stress scene, with lots of radio traffic and people screaming, chanting, and running — conditions he said can cause “tunnel vision” among law officers.

Rittenhouse was assigned a public defender in Illinois for a hearing Friday on his transfer to Wisconsin. The public defender’s office had no comment. Under Wisconsin law, anyone 17 or older is treated as an adult in the criminal justice system.

In Wisconsin, it is legal for people 18 and over to openly carry a gun without a license.

The sheriff told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that militia members or armed vigilantes had been patrolling Kenosha's streets in recent nights, but he did not know if the suspect was among them.

In the wake of the shootings, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers authorized the deployment of 500 members of the National Guard to Kenosha, doubling the number of soldiers in the city of 100,000 midway between Milwaukee and Chicago. The governor's office said he is working with other states to bring in additional National Guard members and law officers. Authorities also announced a 7 p.m. curfew.

Tuesday was the third straight night of protests in Kenosha over the shooting of Blake, a Black man.

On Wednesday, three days after the shooting of Blake, state authorities identified the officer who shot Blake as Rusten Sheskey, a seven-year veteran of the Kenosha Police Department. Sheskey shot Blake while holding onto his shirt after officers first unsuccessfully used a Taser, the Wisconsin Justice Department said. State agents later recovered a knife from the driver’s side floorboard of the vehicle, the department said.

The man who said he made the widely circulated cellphone video of Blake’s shooting has said he heard officers yell, “Drop the knife! Drop the knife!” before the gunfire erupted, according to reports. He said he didn’t see a knife in Blake’s hands.

State authorities did not say Blake threatened anyone with the knife.

In this September 2019 selfie photo taken in Evanston, Ill., Adria-Joi Watkins poses with her second cousin Jacob Blake. (Courtesy Adria-Joi Watkins via AP)

On Tuesday, Ben Crump, the lawyer for Blake’s family, said it would “take a miracle” for Blake to walk again. He called for the officer who opened fire to be arrested and for the others involved to lose their jobs. State officials have announced no charges.

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Meanwhile, protests Wednesday night into Thursday morning were mostly peaceful.

Protesters marched past the intersection where the two people were shot Tuesday night, stopping to gather around the spot to pray and lay flowers.

As of early Thursday, there were no groups patrolling with long guns as there were during previous nights of protests.

On Thursday, seven civil rights leaders, including the Rev. Al Sharpton and Sherrilyn Ifill, the president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, issued a statement in which they called for a federal investigation to determine whether Rittenhouse was “involved in an interstate criminal conspiracy.”

“Tuesday night, two protesters who were advocating for accountability following the horrific police shooting of Jacob Blake were allegedly shot and killed by a 17-year-old associated with a White militia group. We are outraged by these killings. The ability of a minor to travel from another state at the urging of adult White supremacists organizing on Facebook highlights the corrosive and dangerous convergence of race, police violence, and the presence of these violent groups,” the joint statement reads, in part. “That this volatile cocktail was allowed to develop led directly to one of the most violent nights in the city’s history.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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