Prosecutors are trying to introduce evidence at trial that Kyle Rittenhouse is associated with the Proud Boys and that he had a past violent encounter on Kenosha’s lakefront.
The state filed an “other acts” motion Thursday asking the court to admit evidence at Rittenhouse’s trial for shooting three men during protests in Kenosha last August. The shooting left two men dead and another seriously injured. Rittenhouse, 18, is charged with two counts of homicide and one of attempted homicide. He and his supporters have maintained that Rittenhouse was defending himself when he shot the men.
In the motion filed Thursday in Kenosha County Circuit Court, Assistant District Attorneys Thomas Binger and Jason Zapf asked Judge Bruce Schroeder to allow them to admit evidence that Rittenhouse is associated with the Proud Boys, a group classified as a terrorist organization by the Canadian government and as a hate group by the U.S. based Southern Poverty Law Center.
“Much like members of the Proud Boys take pride in violence, the defendant is evidently proud that he killed two people and seriously wounded a third. He has posed for selfies as if he is a celebrity. His family has sold merchandise with his image on it that celebrates his acts of violence,” the prosecution motion states. “The fact that he has since celebrated his notoriety strongly suggests that he set out to achieve the goal of becoming famous.”
Prosecutors are asking that Rittenhouse’s association with members of the Proud Boys be allowed at trial “because it goes to the defendant’s motive and intent for coming to Kenosha on Aug. 25, 2020.”
The state had previously filed a motion looking for a modification of Rittenhouse’s bond after he was photographed in a Racine County tavern on Jan. 5 of this year after a court appearance on the homicide case. In that bond motion, the state included photographs that showed Rittenhouse posing for photographs with men while making the OK sign, while video from the bar shows Rittenhouse being serenaded by the men with the Proud Boys anthem.
“The state has since learned that the people with the defendant at the bar on Jan. 5, 2021 include the leader of the Wisconsin 'Proud Boys' organization and several of its highest-ranking members,” the motion states, noting that Rittenhouse posed for photographs with the men. “Obviously, the defendant shares their believes and has, in fact, been named an honorary member of the organization.”
The motion describes the Proud Boys as a “violently racist organization whose members take pride in assaulting members of racial minorities, particularly Black Lives Matter protesters.”
Prosecutors also want to admit evidence that Rittenhouse repeatedly punched a teenage girl during an incident on Kenosha’s lakefront the month before the August shootings.
Defense attorneys Mark Richards and Corey Chirafisi filed a response Thursday afternoon arguing that the incident on the lakefront is irrelevant and unrelated, and that there is no evidence that Rittenhouse is associated with the Proud Boys.
In a video of the incident at the lakefront that was widely shared on social media last summer, Rittenhouse is seen with a group of teenagers, including two teenage girls who are arguing. “The defendant grabs one of the two female teenagers (who is wearing a black shirt) from the back as this female subject is grappling with another female. The defendant then begins to punch her in the back repeatedly with a closed fist,” the motion states. “As this female teenager is pulled away from the defendant due to her ongoing struggle with another female, the defendant chases after her and begins to punch her in the back again.”
The defense response states that one of the girls involved was Rittenhouse’s sister.
The motion states that Rittenhouse’s actions in the video should be admitted at trial because they show a “consistent motive” with his actions during the Kenosha protests in August. “The defendant, an Illinois resident, willingly and intentionally put himself in violent situations in Wisconsin that do not involve him in order to commit further acts of violence,” the motion states. “In the July 1, 2020 incident, rather than simply pull apart the parties or contact law enforcement, the defendant begins violently attacking one of the female subjects involved in the fight,” the motion states.
The state argues that incident is similar and should be admitted because it shows Rittenhouse “placed himself in violent situations in which he should have had no involvement. After willingly putting himself in these violent conflicts, the defendant responded to them both by perpetrating further acts of violence.”
More national attention
Both the incident at the lakefront and Rittenhouse’s visit to the tavern with members of the Proud Boys were included in an article published Monday in the New Yorker about Rittenhouse, the shootings and their aftermath, including the embrace of Rittenhouse by many conservatives and the fight over funds raised in his name.
In the article, a man named Dave Hancock, a former Navy seal who became involved with Rittenhouse through his former lawyers, said he was with Rittenhouse at the tavern, telling the reporter that one of the men in the photos was a “volunteer lookout” who had been arranged to provide security at the court hearing by Rittenhouse’s former attorney John Pierce, and that that man and his friends invited Rittenhouse to the bar.
The story also states that Rittenhouse, his mother and Pierce also met with the leader of the Proud Boys on a trip to Florida.
“There is no evidence that Mr. Rittenhouse is a member of the Proud Boys. There is no evidence that Mr. Rittenhouse is a member of any organization relating to race or political hate groups,” the defense response states. “There has been no evidence that any witness involved in this matter is now — or has ever previously been — a member of an organization such as the Proud Boys.”
The defense also states that “there is no evidence that Rittenhouse ever sought out, actively searched for, or attempted to communicate in any way with the Proud Boys or any other organizations.”
In the New Yorker story, the Rittenhouses contend they were not aware the men in the pub were Proud Boys and were not aware of the significance of the OK sign or the song the men sang to Rittenhouse at the bar.
Along with the prosecution motion filed Thursday, the defense filed motions seeking to admit evidence that Joseph Rosenbaum, one of the two men killed in the shootings, had been convicted of sexual assault of a minor.
“It is the defense’s position that Rosenbaum sought to arm himself by stealing Mr. Rittenhouse’s weapon because he could not legally purchase a firearm due to his status as a convicted sex offender,” the motion states.
The defense is also seeking to have a charge that Rittenhouse was illegally in possession of a weapon as a minor dismissed, arguing — for a second time — that Wisconsin law would allow Rittenhouse to carry the AR-15 style rifle although he was 17 because, they argue, the state law on the issue regarding minors is aimed at handguns and short-barreled shotguns.
The court is scheduled to hear arguments on the motions on Aug. 17. Rittenhouse’s trial is set to begin in November.