A 17-year-old from the U.S. Midwestern state of Illinois was charged Thursday in the fatal shooting of two protesters and the wounding of a third in Kenosha, Wisconsin, during a night of protests after the weekend police shooting of Jacob Blake.
Kyle Rittenhouse has been charged with first-degree intentional homicide, first-degree reckless homicide, attempted first-degree intentional homicide and first-degree reckless endangerment, the Associated Press reported. He would face a mandatory life sentence if convicted of first-degree intentional homicide, the most serious crime in Wisconsin.
Rittenhouse, of Antioch, Illinois, about 15 miles (24 kilometers) from Kenosha, was assigned a public defender, Lin Wood. Wood said the teenager was acting in self-defense.
On Tuesday, cellphone video was released showing a person carrying what appears to be an assault rifle running down a street and being chased by a group of people. The person shot at several of his pursuers as they began to surround him after he fell to the ground.
"From my standpoint, it's important that the message be clear to other Americans who are attacked that there will be legal resources available in the event false charges are brought against them," Wood said. "Americans should never be deterred from exercising their right of self-defense."
The shootings late Tuesday and the shooting Sunday of Blake, a 29-year-old Black father of six who was left paralyzed from the waist down along with serious injuries to several of his internal organs, made Kenosha the latest city caught up in the fight over racial injustice since the May 25 death of George Floyd, an African American, while in the custody of Minneapolis police officers.
Kenosha police faced questions about their interactions with the gunman on Tuesday night. Witnesses and video show police apparently letting the gunman slip away as people in the crowd shouted that he had shot people.
Kenosha County Sheriff David Beth blamed a chaotic scene, with lots of radio traffic and people screaming, chanting and running, which he said could have caused "tunnel vision" among law officers.
Kenosha remained calm Thursday after the first relatively peaceful night of protests since Sunday.
Demonstrators visited the scene where the protesters were killed and injured Tuesday, praying and laying flowers. Daijon Spann said he joined the demonstration to pay tribute to one of the people who were killed.
"I couldn't take it anymore," Spann told the Associated Press. "I couldn't just sit and watch my friend die."
Police account of shooting
Earlier Wednesday, the Wisconsin Department of Justice released the first official account of the shooting, which was caught on camera and led to four consecutive days of protests in Kenosha, about 60 kilometers south of Milwaukee on Lake Michigan.
According to the report, Kenosha police had been called to a residence "after a female caller reported that her boyfriend was present and was not supposed to be on the premises."
The report says officers unsuccessfully used a Taser when trying to arrest the 29-year-old Blake in the home's front yard, then trailed him as he walked to his vehicle and opened the driver's door.
The Wisconsin justice department said that as Blake leaned into the car, Officer Rusten Sheskey, a seven-year veteran of the Kenosha Police Department, grabbed Blake by his shirt and fired his service weapon seven times into his back. None of the other officers on the scene fired their weapons.
The report noted that Kenosha police do not have body cameras on their uniforms.
Investigators said Wednesday they found a knife on the driver's side floorboard in Blake's car, but no other weapons. The report said Blake had told officers he had a knife in his possession, although it is unclear whether Sheskey knew of the knife when he shot Blake or if Blake threatened the officer with the knife.
Attorneys for Blake say their client did not pose a threat to police and denied he was even in possession of a knife. They say he only wanted to get three of his young children who were in the vehicle "out of a volatile situation."
Inquiry into shooting
Calm in Kenosha began to prevail hours after the U.S. Justice Department announced Wednesday it will open a civil rights inquiry into the police shooting of Blake.
The Justice Department said in a statement that the probe will be handled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in cooperation with Wisconsin state law enforcement investigators and other state authorities.
Sheriff Beth told reporters Wednesday that what happened Tuesday night in the streets of Kenosha is why people should not try to take the law into their own hands.
"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?' ... What happened last night ... was probably the perfect reason why I wouldn't," Beth said.
President Donald Trump tweeted Wednesday he would "be sending federal law enforcement and the National Guard to Kenosha, WI to restore LAW and ORDER!"