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Kenosha law enforcement enabled armed civilians to "wreak havoc and inflict injury" against protesters last summer, lawsuit claims

The father of a man killed last summer during racial justice protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin, filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against members of the Kenosha Police Department and the Kenosha County Sheriff's Department on Tuesday, alleging that officers enabled armed civilians to "wreak havoc and inflict injury" on protestors. His son, Anthony Huber, was killed while trying to pull an assault rifle from the hands of Kyle Rittenhouse, a then-17-year-old who killed two people during the protest, prosecutors say.

The protests began in the city in August 2020, after Jacob Blake — a Black man — was shot in the back seven times by a White police officer. The demonstrations came to a head on August 25, when Rittenhouse, who is alleged to have come to Kenosha from Illinois to defend the city against protesters, allegedly shot three men and killed two, including 26-year-old Huber. 

"Defendants' open support of and coordination with the armed individuals in the minutes and hours before the shootings deprived Anthony Huber and the other protestors of the basic protections typically provided by police," the lawsuit said. "It was a license for the armed individuals to wreak havoc and inflict injury," according to the complaint.

Protests Continue After Kenosha, WI Police Shooting Of Jacob Blake
 As tear gas fills the air, police try to push back demonstrators near the Kenosha County Courthouse during a third night of unrest on August 25, 2020 in Kenosha, Wisconsin.  Scott Olson / Getty Images

Rittenhouse is facing two counts of first-degree homicide and one count of attempted homicide, among other charges. He has pleaded not guilty, and his lawyers have argued he shot the men in self-defense. 

The lawsuit alleges that the Kenosha Police Department and the Kenosha County Sheriff's office behaved illegally by failing to act on what it calls clear information that a group planned to travel to the city to act as a quasi-police force.

In one instance, the lawsuit claims, a local militia leader and former Kenosha alderman put out a call on Facebook for "patriots willing to take up arms and defend our City tonight against the evil thugs." That post got hundreds of responses, including "Use hollow points, they expand on contact" and  "Armed and ready. Shoot to kill tonight," according to the lawsuit.

The militia leader then allegedly emailed the city's police chief to inform him of the plans, writing, "As you know, I am the Commander of the Kenosha Guard, a local militia. We are mobilizing tonight and have about 3,000 RSVP's." Despite this information, law enforcement officials made no effort to dissuade the militia leader, the lawsuit said.   

The lawsuit also alleges that on the night of Huber's death, law enforcement officials allowed the armed civilians to openly defy laws — including allegedly allowing Rittenhouse, a minor, to illegally carry his AR-15 style rifle "openly and conspicuously," and allegedly ordering officers not to arrest them for defying the city-imposed curfew. 

The lawsuit also alleges that, after the curfew had gone into effect, officers were seen on video giving water to Rittenhouse and others, and telling them, "We appreciate you guys, we really do." The lawsuit also alleges that, despite his young age, police failed to ask Rittenhouse for any identification or proof that he was old enough to possess the firearm that he was carrying.

Police Shooting Wisconsin
Kyle Rittenhouse sits while listening during an extradition hearing in Lake County court Friday, October 30, 2020, in Waukegan, Ill. Rittenhouse is accused of killing two protesters days after Jacob Blake was shot by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Nam Y. Huh / AP

"Astonishingly, the Kenosha Police Department, Kenosha County Sheriff's Department, and their supervising officials and police officers, did not treat Rittenhouse or any of the other armed individuals patrolling the streets as a threat to the safety of themselves or the citizens they were sworn to protect," the lawsuit said. "Instead, Defendants deputized these armed individuals, conspired with them, and ratified their actions by letting them patrol the streets, armed with deadly weapons, to mete out justice as they saw fit." 

The lawsuit alleges that the illegal conduct continued after the shootings, when officers let Rittenhouse walk away from the scene without questioning or arresting him. Rittenhouse was arrested the following day.

"The police are supposed to serve and protect," Huber's father, John, said in a statement accompanying the lawsuit. "But that's not what the Kenosha police did. They walked away from their duties and turned over the streets of Kenosha to Kyle Rittenhouse and other armed vigilantes. If they had done their job, my son would still be alive today."

The Kenosha Police Department did not respond to CBS News' request for comment. An attorney for the sheriff's department called the allegations "demonstrably false," and said "the facts will show that Mr. Huber's death was not caused by any actions or inactions of Kenosha County law enforcement." 

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