Gaige Grosskreutz delivered emotional testimony at the Kyle Rittenhouse murder trial on Monday, choking back tears as he described thinking “that I was going to die,” seconds before the teenager shot him in the arm following protests over racial injustice in Kenosha, Wis., last summer.
“I thought that the defendant was an active shooter,” Grosskreutz told the jury, explaining that he’d approached Rittenhouse in hopes of “wrestling” or “detaining” the then 17-year-old after watching him fatally shoot another man just a few feet away.
Video footage from the scene shows Grosskreutz, who had a pistol in his hand during this confrontation, with his arms raised in surrender shortly before Rittenhouse opened fire for a third time that night, shooting Grosskreutz in the bicep. However, during cross examination, Grosskreutz acknowledged that he was shot after pointing his own gun at Rittenhouse, though he insisted that he never intended to shoot.
“I was never trying to kill the defendant,” Grosskreutz said. “In that moment, I was trying to preserve my own life. But doing so while also taking the life of another is not something I’m capable of or comfortable with doing.”
Rittenhouse, now 18, is currently on trial for injuring Grosskreutz and killing two other men, Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber, during a night of civil unrest in Kenosha following the shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man, by a white police officer in August 2020. He faces five felony counts, including first-degree intentional homicide and first-degree reckless homicide, as well as a misdemeanor charge for possession of a dangerous weapon under the age of 18. Rittenhouse, who has said he came to Kenosha from his hometown of Antioch, Ill., to help protect local businesses, after protests on the previous night devolved into riots, has pleaded not guilty.
Grosskreutz’s testimony could be potentially critical to the central question facing the jury: Did Rittenhouse reasonably fear for his life when he opened fire on three protesters? While defense attorneys sought to portray Grosskreutz as part of a mob that chased Rittenhouse, forcing him to act in self-defense, prosecutors attempted to paint the key witness as a Good Samaritan who put himself in harm's way to stop an active shooter from causing further bloodshed.
Kenosha County Assistant District Attorney Thomas Binger began by asking Grosskreutz several detailed questions about his education, training and experience working as an EMT and paramedic for a private ambulance company in Milwaukee — an apparent attempt to draw contrast between the witness and Rittenhouse, a lifeguard who also has identified himself as a medic.
Grosskreutz testified that during the summer of 2020, he’d attended dozens of Black Lives Matter demonstrations following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, acting as both a medic and legal observer for the ACLU, often livestreaming the events with his phone.
In addition to his medical supplies and a hat that read “paramedic,” Grosskreutz said he also usually carried a gun.
“I believe in the Second Amendment,” he said. “I am for people’s right to carry and bear arms.”
On the night of Aug. 25, Grosskreutz said he arrived in Kenosha carrying a Glock pistol holstered in the small of his back. He said he was not aware until later that his concealed-carry permit had expired.
Prior to his confrontation with Rittenhouse, Grosskreutz said he treated roughly 10 people who’d been injured with pepper spray and rubber bullets during the course of the night. When he wasn’t actively attending to a medical emergency, Grosskreutz was recording what he observed in Kenosha and broadcasting it live on Facebook. Clips from his livestream were among the photo and video evidence that have been displayed so far during the trial.
Grosskreutz said he was livestreaming about a block away from Rittenhouse when he first heard him fire the shots that killed Rosenbaum. He said that, as a medic, his initial instinct was to run toward the gunshots to assist anyone who might be hurt, but he changed course when he encountered Rittenhouse running in the opposite direction with his AR-style rifle slung over his back, noting that several other people were also running after Rittenhouse and shouting, “He just shot somebody!”
As Grosskreutz approached, he saw Anthony Huber strike Rittenhouse with his skateboard before hearing another blast from Rittenhouse’s gun, which hit the 26-year-old Huber in the chest.
By this point, Grosskreutz had pulled his pistol from the holster but he insisted, “I didn’t draw my firearm with express intent of using it,” though he said he was prepared to shoot if necessary.
"I decided the best course of action would be to close the distance between the defendant and I, and from there, I don't know ... wrestling the gun, detaining the defendant, I don’t know,” he said. But before he could do any of those things, Rittenhouse pointed his gun at Grosskreutz, prompting him to put his hands up, Grosskreutz testified. Video footage shows Grosskreutz stop walking toward Rittenhouse, who is on the ground, and raise his arms above his head, with his pistol pointing in the air. Grosskreutz testified that after his hands were up, he witnessed Rittenhouse re-rack his rifle, loading a new round into the chamber.
“Re-racking the weapon, in my mind, meant that the defendant pulled the trigger while my hands were in the air, but the gun didn't fire,” he said. “I inferred that the defendant wasn’t accepting my surrender.”
Asked what he was thinking at that moment, Grosskreutz said: “That I was going to die.”
And yet, Binger noted, Grosskreutz never fired his gun.
“That’s not why, up to that point, I’d spent my time, my money and education caring for people,” Grosskreutz said, his eyes filling with tears, when asked why he didn’t shoot Rittenhouse himself. “That’s not who I am and definitely not somebody i would want to become. In that moment, I tried to attempt a non-lethal way to end that interaction.”
The prosecution displayed graphic images of Grosskreutz's bloody arm immediately after the shooting. He said he spent a week in the hospital, followed by several months of physical therapy, and described lasting weakness, permanent muscle loss and neurological damage.
In January he filed a $10 million lawsuit seeking damages from the city of Kenosha and Kenosha County — a fact Rittenhouse’s defense team sought to use to portray him as an unreliable witness in court Monday.
“If Rittenhouse is convicted, your chances of getting $10 million is better,” defense attorney Corey Chirafisi said during his cross-examination of Grosskreutz.
Chirafisi also highlighted inconsistencies between the testimony Grosskreutz provided in court and his statements to police in the initial days after the shooting. Specifically, he questioned why the witness had initially failed to tell police that he was armed at the time he was shot.
“I had just gone through one of the most traumatic experiences of my life, both emotionally and physically,” Grosskreutz replied. “I had just gotten out of surgery. I had just been sedated. I was on pain meds. It wouldn't have been a purposeful omission.”
Update: This article has been updated to include Grosskreutz’s acknowledgement that he’d pointed his gun at Rittenhouse before being shot.
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