The charges against Kline eventually were dropped, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Kline, who has screamed obscenities about the Black Lives Matter movement and been criticized for carrying a weapon similar to that fired by Rittenhouse in Kenosha, demonstrated outside the courthouse before Rittenhouse was acquitted on all charges Friday. The 18-year-old faced five felony charges for shooting three people, killing two, during unrest in Kenosha on the night of Aug. 25, 2020.
Kline, 33, confirmed to The Washington Post in a text message that he was a “fired former Ferguson Police Officer.” He wrote that he traveled from Arizona, where he lives, to support Rittenhouse, who has been hailed by some conservatives as a hero during the fiercely divisive case.
“I traveled all the way from Arizona to support constitutional rights, and the right to self-defense,” he wrote, ending his message with grinning and kissing emoji.
A representative of the Ferguson Police Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment early Friday.
Before Friday’s verdict, Judge Bruce Schroeder, who has criticized media coverage of the case and banned MSNBC from the court on Thursday, had jurors ferried to and from the courthouse each day in a bus the judge described as “sealed” to prevent them from seeing signs or protesters on either side of the trial. The measure was in response to concerns that jurors would be intimidated or otherwise influenced by outside demonstrators.
Kline joined the Ferguson Police Department as a member of the Patrol K-9 Division in November 2015, more than a year after Brown, a Black teenager, was killed by Darren Wilson, a White police officer, in the St. Louis suburb. Wilson did not face criminal charges in Brown’s death on Aug. 9, 2014, sparking weeks of protests and unrest in Ferguson.
In August 2018, Kline was fired after he allegedly stalked a woman, with whom he had been in a romantic relationship, following her to another man’s home. Kline then allegedly threatened the man by poking the man’s chest with the barrel of his gun, according to KSDK. He was arrested and faced charges of suspicion of stalking, unlawful use of a weapon and assault.
But the charges were dropped in January 2020 when the ex-girlfriend and her male companion refused to testify.
When asked about his firing and the allegations, Kline responded, “Sometimes people lie to the police during a criminal investigation.”
Kline has been a fixture outside the courthouse since Tuesday when he appeared with a megaphone and paced across the courthouse lawn for hours, shouting insults at Black Lives Matter supporters, a short-haired dog by his side.
The shivering dog was replaced Wednesday by a semiautomatic rifle that quickly drew the notice from the tiny band of gathered protesters and onlookers from the media.
Kenosha County Sheriff’s deputies approached Kline Wednesday morning to inform him that under Wisconsin law he could not carry a weapon within 1,000 feet of school grounds. Deputies checked his identification and Kline agreed to stow the weapon.
Reuther Central High School sits across the square from the courthouse and is among five schools in the Kenosha Unified School District that have shifted to virtual learning while the verdict is pending.
Candice Ohm, whose sixth-grade son attends one of the schools told Fox6 Milwaukee on Thursday she saw reports of a man with a gun near the courthouse on Facebook. “I had to file paperwork at the courthouse. I was scared to even step in the building, recently,” she said.
He was initially identified by Twitter user @thatdaneshguy on Wednesday as being a former Ferguson police officer in a side-by-side photo comparison.
“Looks exactly like former Ferguson Police Officer Jesse Kline,” he tweeted.
Demonstrators like Kline were commonplace throughout the trial, with the crowd size fluctuating between half a dozen to roughly 40 depending on the weather and the time of day. The most consistent figures appear to have honed their theatrics for the robust audience of TV cameras and photographers, which have tended to outnumber protesters three-to-one.
On Thursday, Kline returned with his dog — and a soft-sided rifle case. After heckling onlookers, he opened the case and brandished its contents: a black doubled-ended sex toy he held over his head.
Many outside the courthouse have pushed back against Kline and other supporters of Rittenhouse whose presence had heightened tension in an already contentious period. Kline denied that he was trying to incite a disturbance, telling a crowd, “If my presence bothers you, you’re a bigot,” according to the Tribune.
One of the people pushing back is Justin Blake, the uncle of Jacob Blake, a Black man who was shot seven times by a White police officer. It was during protests over that shooting that Rittenhouse came to Kenosha with a firearm.
Before Friday’s verdict, Justin Blake led a group on the courthouse steps Thursday in chanting against those like Kline who have showed up in recent days. “We won’t be intimidated,” they declared.
Bellware reported from Kenosha.