The development came as the trial’s 12 jurors continued to deliberate, ending their third day without a verdict.
Judge Bruce Schroeder said the man identified himself to police as “James J. Morrison” and claimed to be a producer for MSNBC acting on instructions from a New York-based producer to follow the bus. Jurors are ferried to and from the courthouse each day in a bus Schroeder described as “sealed” to prevent them from seeing signs or protesters on either side of the divisive trial that might influence them as they consider the fate of 18-year-old Rittenhouse.
A spokesperson for NBC News, the sister network of MSNBC, identified the individual as a freelancer in a statement to The Washington Post but denied an intent to make contact with jurors.
“Last night, a freelancer received a traffic citation. While the traffic violation took place near the jury van, the freelancer never contacted or intended to contact the jurors during deliberations, and never photographed or intended to photograph them,” the network spokesperson said. “We regret the incident and will fully cooperate with the authorities on any investigation.”
Schroeder has been critical of some of the media coverage of the trial and said no one with the network would be allowed in the courthouse for the duration of deliberations, which began Tuesday.
“I don’t know what the ultimate truth of it is, but it would go without much thinking that someone who is following a jury bus, that is a very serious matter and will be referred to the proper authorities for further action,” Schroeder said.
The NBC News spokesperson has not yet responded to an inquiry about whether MSNBC and NBC News plan to challenge the courtroom ban issued Thursday.
“There was no breach of security regarding the jury, nor were there any photographs obtained,” Kenosha police said in a statement via social media. “This investigation remains active and open, no further information.”
A spokesperson for the department did not immediately respond to requests for further comment. Shaquille Brewster, an NBC News correspondent, read the network’s statement about the incident on MSNBC’s air.
The judge’s decision to ban MSNBC drew strong reactions on rival networks Fox News and CNN.
“It was pretty hasty to ban an entire news organization and not just this one individual, but it just shows what a serious issue it is,” said CNN legal analyst Elliot Williams, a former deputy assistant attorney general.
Fox News anchor Harris Faulkner said the MSNBC ban “speaks to this bigger issue of chilling free speech,” arguing that network personalities “wanted to change the narrative” about the Rittenhouse case.
Jurors were not in the courtroom when Schroeder addressed questions over the incident in the presence of Rittenhouse and attorneys for each side.
The jury has been deliberating since Tuesday as it tries to reach a verdict in the homicide trial. Rittenhouse faces five felony charges stemming from the night of Aug. 25, 2020, when he shot three people, killing two, during unrest in Kenosha.
The deliberations are private, and legal experts caution against speculating about what could be happening inside the jury room. But the longer the process lasts, the more it seems there are potential divisions among the jurors, said Daniel S. Medwed, a law professor at Northeastern University.
“The fact that it’s gone on for a few days says to me this could be a deadlock situation,” Medwed said. “Where there is a real fissure — not just one or two holdouts, but a real fissure.”
Medwed said that in controversial cases, jurors can sometimes come to compromise verdicts, in which they acquit on the most serious charges but convict on lesser counts. That could be a possibility here, Medwed said, and the length of time could signal that some jurors might be “digging in their heels on one side or the other,” holding out on some of the counts.