ACLU says Kenosha curfew was not lawful, seeks dismissal of all tickets

Protesters confront Kenosha County sheriff's deputies outside the Kenosha Police Department on Sunday, Aug. 23, 2020. Kenosha police shot Jacob Blake that day, setting off unrest in the city.

The ACLU of Wisconsin on Wednesday called for Kenosha curfew violations issued during the recent unrest there to be dismissed, saying the curfew was never lawfully imposed, just announced by the sheriff.

According to the ACLU, Sheriff David Beth had no legal authority to declare a curfew on Aug. 24, the day after violence and arson broke out amidst protests over the shooting of Jacob Blake.

Kenosha County Sheriff David Beth

Blake, 29, was shot seven times in the back on Aug. 23 by Kenosha police officer Rusten Sheskey during a confrontation prompted by a woman’s call that her boyfriend was at her home when he was not supposed to be. Video of the shooting spread quickly on social media and drove protesters to converge at the Kenosha County Courthouse, where events turned violent, including several major arson fires.

Beth declared a curfew the next day, a Monday, but without the legal authority to do so, according to the ACLU.

“Emergency ordinances, like county-wide curfews, must be authorized by local governments, not law enforcement personnel,” the organization wrote in a letter to Attorney General Josh Kaul.

“When the Kenosha Common Council declared a state of emergency on August 25, and transferred emergency powers to the mayor, he failed to provide critical details about the curfew, including where exactly it would be enforced, who was subject to it, and whether or not there were exemptions,” the letter states.

Furthermore, the ACLU argues, only those protesting police violence and racism were arrested for curfew violations, not any of the armed counter-protesters that included Kyle Rittenhouse, a 17-year-old Illinois resident now charged with killing two people and wounding a third during confrontations late on Aug. 25.

Four people arrested for curfew violations have made the same claims of discrimination in a federal lawsuit against the city and county of Kenosha.

In the letter, the ACLU asks Kaul to expand his office’s investigation of the Blake shooting to include what it contends was unlawful use of force by various law enforcement agencies over the next several nights.

“It should be obvious that the Kenosha Sheriff and the Kenosha Police Department cannot investigate these events,” the letter states. “Virtually the entire contingent of personnel of both agencies were involved in these events.”

The ACLU indicates at least 94 people were charged with violating the curfew over the 10 days it was in effect. The Kenosha County Sheriff’s Department told the Journal Sentinel that about 150 arrests were for curfew violations.

Kenosha County District Attorney Michael Graveley did not respond to a request for comment about the ACLU demands to dismiss curfew violation charges.

Contact Bruce Vielmetti at (414) 224-2187 or bvielmetti@jrn.com. Follow him on Twitter at @ProofHearsay.