Kyle Rittenhouse's attorneys likely to question the character of 2 shooting victims, hurt medic

Gaige Grosskreutz, trained as a paramedic, went to Kenosha, Wis. on the third night of 2020 protests to provide medical assistance to anyone injured in the demonstrations


Kyle Rittenhouse was found not guilty on all charges against him on Nov. 19, 2021, connected to the fatal shooting of two people and wounding of another during civil unrest in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

Many reports of the events of Aug. 25, 2020, and the Kyle Rittenhouse trial, including this news article, have described Gaige Grosskreutz as an EMT or paramedic. Grosskreutz, according to a LinkedIn profile, trained as an EMT and paramedic, and had employment affiliations with ambulance service providers in Wisconsin. The Wisconsin Department of Health Services Public Personnel Lookup website did not show an active Wisconsin EMT or paramedic license for Grosskreutz in August 2020 and does not currently.

Grosskreutz is reported to have gone to Kenosha to provide medical assistance to anyone injured during the protests. Robert Lawrence, EMS1 columnist, explored the concept of street medics, in the article "Who are street medics."

Stacy St. Clair
Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO — With jury selection set to begin Monday in Kyle Rittenhouse’s murder case, his defense team has signaled it intends to put the men he shot on trial, too.

It’s a strategy bolstered by a series of pretrial rulings by a Kenosha County judge with a long-held reputation for giving defendants wide latitude to present a defense and a hard rule against using the word “victim” in his courtroom. In a nuanced case that hinges on the Antioch teen’s state of mind, legal experts say pretrial rulings regarding what jurors can — and cannot — hear will set a tone for the proceedings in a legally justifiable way the public may struggle to understand.

In this Aug. 25, 2020 file photo, Gaige Grosskreutz (top) tends to an injured protester during clashes with police outside the Kenosha County Courthouse in Kenosha, Wis.
In this Aug. 25, 2020 file photo, Gaige Grosskreutz (top) tends to an injured protester during clashes with police outside the Kenosha County Courthouse in Kenosha, Wis. (Photo/David Goldman/Associated Press)

“I’ve never seen a case that’s so complicated to try to disentangle the motives and countermotives of all of the players in the street,” said Dr. Ziv Cohen, a forensic psychiatrist who has consulted on more than 50 murder cases. “I think that this is a very unpredictable case, and that’s partly why the judge’s decisions are so momentous.”

Rittenhouse has pleaded not guilty to the charges and says he acted in self-defense when he fatally shot Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber and wounded Gaige Grosskreutz in August 2020.

Then 17 and living in Antioch, Rittenhouse fired the shots while patrolling downtown Kenosha, Wisconsin, with an AR-15 rifle amid the turmoil and unrest surrounding the shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man, by a white police officer. Despite not being old enough to openly carry a gun, Rittenhouse volunteered as an armed security guard after businesses had been burned and vandalized during demonstrations held the previous day.

The shootings have become a flashpoint in the national debate over gun rights and racial inequities, with video from that night only cementing the ideologies of those who watch it. Some see Rittenhouse as a vigilante who recklessly brought a gun to a chaotic scene, while others claim he’s a patriot who was protecting both himself and the community when he shot the three men in self-defense.

The judge will allow the teen’s attorneys to paint the latter portrait with evidence showing that local police seemingly supported the teen’s presence that night. Over prosecutors’ objections, Kenosha County Circuit Judge Bruce Schroeder ruled the jury can see a video taken before the shooting in which officers in an armored vehicle tossed bottles of water to him and other armed civilians who were clearly violating the city’s 8 p.m. curfew.

One officer can be heard on the recording expressing his gratitude to the group.

“We appreciate you guys,” the officer said. “We really do.”

Kenosha County Sheriff David Beth shrugged off the interaction after the shootings, saying his deputies would “toss water to anybody.”

In opting to allow the video, Schroeder said he wouldn’t permit the defense to argue the encouraging words reflected the police department’s overall opinion of the armed vigilantes. Legal experts, however, believe the recording may offer the best, most effective explanation for Rittenhouse’s mindset that night.

“That’s a powerful argument. We can all be very unhappy about the fact that the police welcomed him there and I think that shows astonishingly poor judgment on the part of the police. But at the same time, the jury has to see it from the mind of this 17-year-old kid,” said John Gross, director of the Public Defender Project at the University of Wisconsin Law School. “The police are in a position of great authority and he feels that they’re welcoming him there. It does strengthen his position that he was simply trying to protect the public and that at a certain point, he was acting in self-defense.”

In the weeks leading up to the trial, prosecutors repeatedly tried — and almost always failed — to prevent Rittenhouse’s attorneys from portraying the men Rittenhouse shot as lawless demonstrators who wreaked havoc on the city. The defense lawyers never denied that strategy and instead told the judge that they intended to tie the men to the violent acts that occurred throughout the downtown that night.

“They were not protesters,” Rittenhouse’s attorney Mark Richards said in court. “They were rioters.”

Schroeder recently gave the defense permission to call the three men “rioters, looters or arsonists” if they present evidence that support the claims. He barred the defense, however, from referencing that Rosenbaum was a convicted sex offender.

Rittenhouse’s team intends to argue that Rosenbaum, in particular, posed a danger that night as he threatened to kill people and engaged in arson. None of the acts, however, occurred in the moments immediately preceding the shooting and it’s unclear if Rittenhouse witnessed them himself. He made no mention of them in a detailed conversation with Antioch police after he turned himself in for the shooting, according to law enforcement records.

“The behavior of many people there was lawless,” Richards said. “Mr. Rosenbaum was at the top of that list.”

Schroeder indicated he would allow evidence of bad behavior that night by the men Rittenhouse shot because it could speak to how dangerous they would have seemed to the teen. Prosecutors failed to convince the judge that the defense wanted to sully Rosenbaum’s reputation so the jury could more easily justify the shooting.

“This is an attempt to tell the jury that Mr. Rosenbaum was a bad guy who deserved to die,” Assistant District Attorney Thomas Binger said. “That’s really what’s going on here, your honor.”

In the same hearing, the judge also prohibited prosecutors from referring to the men Rittenhouse shot as “victims.” The ruling is not uncommon in self-defense cases where there is a dispute over who bears responsibility, but the decision made national headlines and the outcry resulted in dozens of angry emails sent to the courthouse demanding Schroeder recuse himself from the case, records show.

The ruling, however, has widespread support among legal experts, who said only the jury can determine who was victimized that night. As in other states, Wisconsin law holds that a person can shoot if he or she reasonably believes firing is necessary to avoid being killed or badly hurt.

“I’m sure it was startling to people who heard the sound bite and read the headline. If you’re not intimately involved in the criminal justice system, the community doesn’t understand how critically important it is for the judge to be the gatekeeper and do everything he or she can to protect the accused’s rights,” veteran criminal defense attorney Joel Hirschhorn said. “I admire the judge’s courage. He could have easily ruled the other way, but obviously this judge had a commitment to allow the defendant to raise a reasonable defense.”

Kimberly Motley, who represents Grosskreutz as well as Rosenbaum’s estate, told the Tribune she understood the legal justification for banning the word “victim,” but she objected to the defense team’s attempts to demean the three men as “rioters, looters and arsonists” given their client’s own behavior. If not for Rittenhouse’s decision to illegally carry a gun that night, she said, two people would still be alive and Grosskreutz would not have suffered a debilitating injury.

Grosskreutz, a trained paramedic, went to Kenosha on the third night of protests to provide medical assistance to anyone injured in the demonstrations. Like Rittenhouse, he walked the streets that night with a first-aid kit and gun. He crossed paths with Rittenhouse after the teen shot Rosenbaum and ran away from the scene.

Two other men initially tried to stop him from fleeing, including Huber, who hit Rittenhouse with his skateboard. Rittenhouse shot at both, missing the first man and killing Huber. Grosskreutz then approached Rittenhouse and was shot in the arm, losing about 90% of his bicep.

Records show Rittenhouse made no mention of Grosskreutz’s gun when trying to explain the shooting to the police hours later, raising questions about whether he saw it before pulling the trigger or only learned about it later. Grosskreutz’s attorney denies he participated in any violent or destructive acts that night.

“Gaige Grosskreutz is not a looter, rioter or arsonist,” Motley said. “He is a hero.”

Beyond the charges against Rittenhouse, jurors will hear very little about the teen’s character per Schroeder’s order. The prosecution lost requests to present evidence showing Rittenhouse and his sister engaging in a two-on-one physical altercation during a few weeks before the shootings. They also cannot play a video in which Rittenhouse allegedly talks about wanting to shoot people whom he believes are shoplifting from a local pharmacy.

The rulings dealt a setback to prosecutors’ efforts to portray Rittenhouse as a “chaos tourist” who came to Kenosha to impose his own sense of justice. They had hoped to bolster that claim by showing pictures of Rittenhouse socializing with members of a far-right organization at a Wisconsin bar earlier this year, but Schroeder has barred the evidence because he believes it could prejudice jurors against Rittenhouse.

Rittenhouse’s attorneys repeatedly have denied he is a member of any militia or white supremacist group.

Prosecutors acknowledge they cannot prove Rittenhouse’s connection to fringe groups before the shooting, but they say they have evidence Rittenhouse met for lunch after a court hearing in early 2020 with several high-ranking members of the Proud Boys organization, a far-right group known for street fights that the Anti-Defamation League characterizes as “misogynistic, Islamophobic, transphobic and anti-immigration,” with some members espousing “white supremacist and anti-Semitic ideologies.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center labels the organization a general hate group.

Legal experts say prosecutors could not have seriously expected the judge to allow the evidence, but the pretrial arguments could still hurt Rittenhouse because that bar gathering has become part of the public narrative about him.

“What he did after the fact associating with those guys is irrelevant. I mean, it’s not even a credible argument for prosecutors,” Gross said. “But as a defense attorney, when I see him doing that after the fact, I just cringe. It does not help his case at all.”

About 300 Kenosha County residents have been summoned for jury duty Monday. Schroeder intends to swear in 20 of them — 12 jurors and eight alternates — to serve on the panel.

He has predicted the selection process will take a single day. But with the political hot buttons and complicated legal issues in play, legal experts predict it could take significantly longer.

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