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On August 25, 2020, Kyle Rittenhouse carried a Smith & Wesson AR-15-style rifle through the streets of Kenosha, Wisconsin in an effort to protect local businesses from riots that broke out in the wake of the police shooting of Jacob Blake. During the violent chaos of the night, Rittenhouse was attacked multiple times, and he fired eight rounds in self-defense during four distinct incidents. In legal self-defense, every round fired must be justified, and over the last several weeks we’ve explored seven of Rittenhouse’s shots. He fired the first four shots after Joseph Rosenbaum chased him down, cornered him between parked cars, and tried to take his rifle. All four rounds struck Rosenbaum, and one proved fatal. While being pursued by an angry mob, Rittenhouse stumbled and was attacked by an unknown assailant who attempted some kind of improvised flying drop-kick. Rittenhouse fired two rounds, shots four and five, which missed the attacker, causing the assailant to flee. Then Anthony Huber struck Rittenhouse in the head with a skateboard and tried to grab his rifle. Rittenhouse fired a seventh time. It proved fatal.
The eighth and final round Rittenhouse fired was aimed at Gaige Grosskreutz. Grosskreutz had just witnessed the Huber attack. As Grosskreutz approached, Rittenhouse, who was still prone on the ground, raised his rifle but did not fire. From the video of the incident, we can see that Grosskreutz appears to raise his hands as if to surrender, but then he quickly lunges towards Rittenhouse. He’s armed with a pistol. Rittenhouse fires a final round. It strikes Grosskreutz in the bicep, causing him to break off the attack. Of all the shots Rittenhouse fired that night, the single shot against Grosskreutz was the easiest to justify because the attacker had a firearm, and by his own admission, Grosskreutz had pointed his pistol at the defender.
What might be most remarkable about the encounter with Grosskreutz is that Rittenhouse had the restraint to stop firing after his attacker retreated. Arguably, Grosskreutz was still physically capable of shooting Rittenhouse with his pistol, but Rittenhouse accurately interpreted Grosskreutz’s surrender as the end of the attack. Don West, criminal defense attorney and National Trial Counsel for CCW Safe says, “Each time Rittenhouse didn’t shoot became almost as important as when he did.” Don notes that video of the incident shows another person in the crowd charged up to Rittenhouse the same way Grosskreutz did. “It’s evident Rittenhouse was prepared to shoot him if he kept coming and became an imminent threat of great bodily harm or death, but when he stopped, so did Rittenhouse.”
“I think that worked to his benefit,” Don says. “Certainly the jury would take note of it and put it in context. He wasn’t there just spraying the crowd, shooting anybody and everybody he thought was getting within a certain distance of him.”
According to court documents, the magazine on Rittenhouse’s rifle held 30 rounds. Rittenhouse fired only eight, and to Don’s point, it’s possible the jury gave the defender some credit for each of the 22 rounds he left in the magazine. Don says that, in many ways, “the claim of self-defense really focuses on those moments before and after the fatal shots are fired.” When a self-defense scenario includes a series of incidents, like the Rittenhouse case, each of those moments can have a cumulative effect in the minds of the jury.
Prosecutors claimed Rittenhouse used excessive force during the first incident because he shot Rosenbaum four times. Had that first incident occurred in isolation, they may have been able to convince the jury to see it their way, but the fact that Rittenhouse was able to fend off two other attacks with only one shot each worked against the prosecutor’s argument. The fact that Rittenhouse was able to prevent an attack with only a defensive display worked against the prosecutor’s argument that Rittenhouse was trigger happy. And the fact that Rittenhouse stopped firing at Grosskreutz, an armed attacker who arguably still had the intent and ability to cause death or great bodily harm – well, that worked against the prosecutor’s argument too.
Don West says, “While each of these incidents were being viewed criminally, with separate charges for each of the shootings, they were also looked at overall, and how they juxtaposed against each other became important, I think, for the jury in reaching the ‘not guilty’ verdicts, not just for the individual charges, but for the case as a whole.”
Rittenhouse exercised poor judgment when he chose to leave a place of safety and take a long gun into a dangerous, chaotic riot. The prosecutors wanted the jury to interpret the defendant’s bad judgment as malice. They wanted the jury to believe that Rittenhouse was some sort of unhinged vigilante who went to Kenosha to start trouble. Instead, it seems the jury viewed Rittenhouse as a misguided teen who made a series of bad choices with otherwise good intentions. The extraordinary restraint he showed in the face of so many threats demonstrated a fundamental regard for human life – even for the lives of the very people who attacked him.
The lesson for concealed carriers is that when you choose to carry a firearm, you should also arm yourself with a warm regard for human life. If you can manage to maintain a mindset that fundamentally values life, then it will likely manifest itself in every action you take as a concealed carrier, and should you ever be forced to defend yourself, your mindset will hopefully be evident with every shot you fire, and perhaps more importantly, with every shot you choose not to fire.
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