A federal judge allowed the father of one of the men fatally shot by Kyle Rittenhouse to advance a civil lawsuit claiming that a conspiracy between police and then then-teenager resulted in his son’s death.
The judge appeared skeptical that the father ultimately would be able to prove his conspiracy claims, calling the proposition “unlikely” but not “delusional.”
John Huber, the father of Anthony Huber, sued Rittenhouse for wrongful death months before his criminal trial. That lawsuit also leveled federal civil rights claims against the city and county of Kenosha, along with law enforcement officers who were involved in the police response to the protests over Jacob Blake‘s shooting. Huber’s claims against government actors included charges that the officers’ actions during the protests amounted to a conspiracy with Rittenhouse to harm protesters.
Rittenhouse was 17 at the time he killed Huber. He was tried and acquitted on all criminal charges in a 2021 trial after he argued that he had been acting in self-defense. During the trial, Rittenhouse’s defense team relied on the expertise of high-profile jury consultants and other experts.
His civil lawyer Shane Martin told Law&Crime that the ruling sending the civil case to discovery “does not change the facts.”
“As most of America fully understands, the only reason Kyle came into contact with Anthony Huber that night is that Huber struck Kyle on the head with a skateboard and knocked him to the ground while Kyle was fleeing a mob of other attackers and running toward Kenosha police to turn himself in,” Martin wrote in a statement. “Huber then tried to forcibly disarm Kyle as he lay in the street before striking Kyle in the head a second time. Those blows caused Kyle injuries he still suffers from today. There simply was no conspiracy between Kyle and the Kenosha police to single out Anthony Huber, and as one jury has already found, Kyle’s actions that night were not wrongful and were taken in self-defense.”
Huber contextualized the August 2020 events in Kenosha, Wisconsin, quite differently in his complaint:
Jacob Blake… was a Black man who had been shot in the back seven times by an officer in the Kenosha Police Department, and [Anthony] Huber was among many who peacefully protested the shooting and Kenosha’s pattern of racist and violent behavior by police officers and other officials.
He then discussed the police response to protests:
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 crux of Huber’s lawsuit noted the allegedly genial relationship between law enforcement and armed men on the streets of Kenosha:
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. In addition, Defendants thanked Rittenhouse and other armed individuals, gave them water, and allowed them to openly defy the emergency curfew order that was in place. Defendants even made plans to funnel the protestors toward the armed individuals “deal with them.”
Huber alleged that these actions by government officials caused Rittenhouse to shoot an assault rifle “indiscriminately a number of times at citizens on the street,” killing two men.
Huber called his son Anthony “a hero,” who “attempted to disarm Rittenhouse, end the gunfire, stop the bloodshed, and protect his fellow citizens.”
The defendants each moved to dismiss, with the government entities arguing that Huber insufficiently alleged that Rittenhouse and any state actor reached the kind of agreement necessary for conspiracy charges.
A federal judge disagreed and ruled against the defense in a 48-page ruling Wednesday. As a result, Huber’s lawsuit will move forward in the litigation process.
U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman, a Bill Clinton appointee, wrote Wednesday that while some of Huber’s allegations might be “hard to believe,” that they are neither “fantastic” nor “delusional” so as to warrant dismissal at this stage.
In Adelman’s ruling, the judge zeroed in on a key argument in the motions to dismiss: that Rittenhouse’s shootings were not a sufficiently direct result of any actions taken by the police. Adelman ruled that given law enforcement’s knowing creation of a dangerous situation, Huber’s killing was “a foreseeable result of the defendants’ decision to create an explosive situation by forcing protestors into a confined area with hostile armed individuals,” rather than a “remote” consequence.
“Huber’s death was not so attenuated from defendants’ conduct as to relieve them of liability. Huber was killed while the dangerous situation created by defendants was ongoing, not five months later,” reasoned Adelman.
Adelman also ruled that, “A conspiracy such as the one alleged in the complaint would violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment,” as well as the First Amendment.
The judge was clear to point out, though, that surviving a motion to dismiss is not the same as satisfying a fact-finder at trial. Defendants argued that the existence of a conspiracy between cops and Rittenhouse was “absurd.”
Adelman disagreed, but qualified, “While I agree that such a conspiracy is unlikely, I cannot say that these allegations are so fantastic that I may ignore the complaint’s factual allegations and dismiss the conspiracy allegations as frivolous or entirely implausible.” The judge continued, explaining that Huber has already offered “more than most plaintiffs can allege,” given that conspiracies “are usually kept secret.”
The judge’s ruling means that Huber’s claims against Rittenhouse and the government defendants will now proceed toward trial. Huber seeks unspecified damages in the case.
To prevail on the civil rights claims, Huber will need to prove that Rittenhouse and the police had an agreement to deprive protesters of their rights. Although federal law does not require that such an agreement be formalized to be actionable, it does require that co-conspirators intentionally worked together toward a common goal. Whether communications between Rittenhouse and police rose to the level of a civil conspiracy is a question to be determined by the ultimate trier of fact — likely a jury.
Attorneys for the parties did not immediately respond to Law&Crime’s request for comment.
[Image via Mark Hertzberg/ZUMA Press Wire/Pool]
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