Part 4: Good Samaritan
On the night of August 25, Kyle Rittenhouse shot three people with a rifle, killing two. He’s been charged with six crimes, including first-degree intentional homicide. He has claimed self-defense. His lawyers have held him up as a hero.
“To prevent the total destruction of their community,” says the narrator in a video released by the defense team, “Good Samaritans united to protect local businesses. Among them was seventeen-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse.” In the days after the shooting of Jacob Blake, protests turned violent in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Rioters burned businesses. On the third day of unrest, Rittenhouse traveled from his home in Antioch, Illinois to offer help. During the day, he volunteered to remove graffiti from Luther Center High School. In the evening, he took up a position with other self-described “guards” to protect what was left of a business that had been attacked the night before.
“People are getting injured,” Rittenhouse told a reporter in a recorded cell phone interview. “And our job is to protect this business. Part of my job is also to help people. If there’s somebody hurt, I’m running into harm’s way. That’s why I have my rifle, because I need to protect myself obviously, but I also have my med kit.”
It’s important to note that Rittenhouse was not a first responder. A video taken on the evening of August 25 shows him representing himself as an EMT. In the video released by his lawyers, Rittenhouse is described as a former lifeguard who was trained in advanced life support. Objectively speaking, it was not Rittenhouse’s “job” to be there; he chose, as a private citizen, to get involved.
Steve Moses is a well-regarded weapons instructor and a CCW Safe contributor. A recently retired deputy constable, Steve spent over 10 years on a multi-precinct Special Response Team. He helped serve warrants in high-risk circumstances. It literally WAS Steve’s job to arm himself and put himself in harm’s way. It’s different for Steve now that he’s retired. He says private citizens who are concealed carriers have a responsibility to avoid dangerous situations unless they have no other choice. “The very fact that Rittenhouse felt like he needed to be armed,” Steve says, “is a clear indication that he thought it was a dangerous situation.”
And Rittenhouse was right; it was a dangerous situation. Late in the evening, long past a mandatory emergency curfew, a protester named Joseph Rosenbaum was allegedly starting dumpster fires with the intent of rolling the burning trash bins into businesses. Rosenbaum objected to Rittenhouse’s interference, and he chased him down and tried to take his rifle. Rittenhouse shot Rosenbaum four times, killing his attacker. Fearful of an assembling crowd that issued verbal threats, Rittenhouse fled. Some people pursued, and Rittenhouse faced three more attackers -- one struck him with a skateboard, and one was armed with a pistol. Rittenhouse fired in three more instances, striking two assailants, killing one of them.
Don West, criminal defense lawyer and National Trial Counsel for CCW Safe thinks, based upon the information publicly available, that Rittenhouse has a strong self-defense claim. Don says, “When they’re yelling, ‘beat him, get him,’ chasing him, knocking him down, swinging a weapon -- the skateboard is clearly a weapon in this sense -- drawing guns, all in the context of him trying to get away . . . I think that Rittenhouse’s perception that they were his attackers and that they intended to seriously injure him or kill him is reasonable.”
The legal defense, however, faces a few stiff challenges: one attacker was unarmed, another was armed only with a skateboard. A jury may find the use of a rifle disproportionate to the threats he faced. Moreover, a jury may hold Rittenhouse responsible for his decision to bring a rifle into a volatile situation where violence was likely.
Both Don and Steve offer sharp criticism of Rittenhouse’s decision to take a rifle to Kenosha on the night of August 25. Steve says, “If it’s too dangerous to go there without a gun, it’s too dangerous to go there with a gun.” While Steve acknowledges occasions may arise when a concealed carrier feels they must put themselves in a dangerous situation, he suggests that the riots in Kenosha, a thirty-minute drive from Rittenhouse's home, didn’t rise to that level.
The help Rittenhouse was able to offer didn’t justify the extraordinary risk he took. “The consequences are just enormous if something goes wrong,” Steve says. “There’s so many different things that can go bad that it’s hard to even imagine what they all might be.”
In terms of consequences, beyond the loss of life, Don West stresses the severity of the legal ramifications of the shootings. Don says, “There’s so much time associated with these charges that if he’s convicted of anything, he’s going to spend a significant part of his life in prison.” The two counts of recklessly endangering safety could carry 12 years each. First-degree reckless homicide could mean 60 years, as could the first-degree attempted homicide charge. The first-degree intentional homicide charge could carry a life sentence. If he’s convicted of multiple charges, a judge could decide that the sentences are to be served consecutively, meaning you add up all the individual sentences to arrive at one long prison term.
In the meantime, Rittenhouse’s life has been turned upside down and put on hold. Don West says, “Kyle Rittenhouse has no control over what charges he is facing. He cannot control whether he’s going to get convicted. He can have good lawyers do their very best, but that’s all they can do.” Ultimately, Rittenhouse’s fate will be decided by twelve random strangers. It’s a nightmare.
We have recently experienced a period of social unrest, and our nation is divided like never before. We have good reason to have a heightened awareness, but we’re not witnessing a complete breakdown of society. We are not under martial law. Moments after the Kenosha shootings, law enforcement arrived in force. Could local law enforcement have done a better job at stopping the rioters? For sure. Was it the responsibility of an armed seventeen-year-old to step in and fill the vacuum? It was not.
Don West says, “Even though there may be threats to property and people, responsible concealed carriers, even those who have some training with firearms, should simply let the authorities do their job, for better or worse.”
Steve Moses says, “The very best choice is to do what you have to do to take care of yourself, your family, your property that you possess to the extent that it is lawful, but otherwise it’s almost never a good idea to go out to be the hero.”
There may be scenarios where a concealed carrier feels the stakes are so high and that the consequences of inaction are so severe that they feel justified in taking the risk to leave a place of safety to make a stand in a place where it is unsafe. That is an extraordinarily personal decision. Anyone who makes that decision should take a full and brutally honest assessment of the life and death consequences that would result if something goes wrong. Imagine yourself 30 years into a 60-year prison sentence: will you still think it was worth the risk?
SHAWN VINCENT- LITIGATION CONSULTANT
Shawn Vincent is a litigation consultant who helps select juries in self-defense cases, and he manages public interest of high-profile legal matters. If you have any questions for Shawn, or would like more articles like this, let us know belo