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Kenosha cops explain why they didn’t immediately arrest Rittenhouse

The officers had been criticized for how they treated Rittenhouse after the fatal shooting

kyle rittenhouse trial

Kyle Rittenhouse, center, looks back as Kenosha County Sheriff’s deputies enter the courtroom to escort him out of the room during a break in the trial at the Kenosha County Courthouse in Kenosha, Wis., on Friday, Nov. 5, 2021.

Sean Krajacic/The Kenosha News via AP, Pool

By Stacy St. Clair
Chicago Tribune

KENOSHA, Wis. — A Kenosha police officer testified Friday he ignored Kyle Rittenhouse’s attempts to surrender because he believed there was still an active shooter situation and the teen didn’t behave as people typically do when they’re giving themselves up.

In the first public explanation since that night, Officer Pep Moretti said he and his partner were responding to an active shooter call during the Aug. 25, 2020, unrest when they spotted Rittenhouse walking down the street with his hands up. He said neither he nor his partner heard bystanders yell “The dude right there just shot them” as they sat inside their squad car.

The partners’ sole focus, he said, was getting up the street and helping people who appeared to be victims of an active shooting.

“There was still gunfire erupting around us … so we still thought he was an active threat,” he said.

Video of the armed 17-year-old walking toward armored police vehicles and Moretti’s police cruiser without being stopped went viral and was held up by many as an example of white privilege and racial bias in policing. After Rittenhouse was shooed away by police, his friend drove him back across state lines to Antioch, where he turned himself in to local authorities.

Moretti said Rittenhouse alternated between touching his weapon and raising his hands as he walked toward the squad car so they “weren’t quite sure” what Rittenhouse was doing. They yelled at him to “get out of the road” because he was blocking their way.

When Rittenhouse wouldn’t move out of the way, Moretti said, he removed his own gun and his partner shot pepper spray at the teen.

“My partner and I ... gave him multiple commands to get out of the roadway and step to the side so we could get to people ahead in the roadway who needed our assistance,” Moretti testified.

The partners never considered the possibility Rittenhouse could be surrendering to them, the police officer said.

“In my prior experience in law enforcement, when somebody surrenders to us, they will generally put their hands up but they will take the further step and drop to their knees or they will lay in a prone position,” Moretti said. “They’ll usually follow commands when they’re attempting to surrender. Never in my career have I had somebody put their hands up and continue to advance.”

The partners also didn’t think it was unusual to see someone walking around with an assault rifle strapped to their chest, given the chaos and violence that engulfed the downtown. He described it like a “war zone.”

“I probably spoke to more people that had pistols, rifles and baseball bats than not,” Moretti said.

After driving past Rittenhouse, Moretti and his partner provided a police escort to the hospital for Gaige Grosskreutz, one of the men shot by Rittenhouse. Grosskreutz, who survived the shooting, suffered such a severe wound to his arm that he needed to be airlifted to a Milwaukee medical center for treatment.

Rittenhouse — a 17-year-old lifeguard from north suburban Antioch — crossed state lines and volunteered to patrol downtown Kenosha amid the turmoil surrounding the shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man, by a white police officer. Carrying an AR-15-style rifle that police say a friend illegally purchased for him, Rittenhouse fatally shot Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber and injured Grosskreutz.

He has pleaded not guilty, arguing he acted in self-defense.

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