Kenosha Police Under Scrutiny for Case of Black Teen Jailed for Killing Abuser

We look at how the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, has brought renewed scrutiny to another case from 2018: that of Black teenager Chrystul Kizer, who faces charges of killing her alleged sex trafficker, a 34-year-old white man, when she was just 17 years old. Court records show Randall Volar had a history of sexually abusing underage Black girls that was known to the Kenosha police, but he remained free for months. In June 2018, Kizer says she shot and killed Volar in self-defense after he drugged her and tried to rape her. Kizer was freed from jail on $400,000 bail in June but is still fighting her case. “It really says a lot about the police force there, the prosecutors there,” says Washington Post reporter Jessica Contrera. “Chrystul is at the center of this case that says everything about the sexual trauma that so many young Black girls go through when they are trafficked.”

TRANSCRIPT

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! The Quarantine Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

President Trump is heading to Kenosha, Wisconsin, today despite fierce opposition to his visit and as protests over the police shooting of unarmed Black father Jacob Blake continue. On Monday, Trump defended 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse, the white militia member who opened fire on Black Lives Matter protesters in Kenosha last week, killing two of them. This comes as calls are growing for the Kenosha police chief and county sheriff to resign, after Kenosha police allowed Rittenhouse to leave the scene after gunning down the protesters. Video shows police officers offering members of the armed white mob water earlier in the night. Rittenhouse faces up to life in prison, was charged with first-degree intentional homicide and first-degree reckless homicide.

Well, Jacob Blake’s shooting by a police officer and the police behavior in the streets of Kenosha have brought renewed scrutiny to another case from 2018: that of Black teenager Chrystul Kizer, who faces charges of killing her alleged sex trafficker, a 34-year-old white man, when she was just 17 years old. Court records show that the man, Randall Volar, had a history of sexually abusing underage Black girls as young as 12. That was known to the Kenosha police, but he remained free for months. Then, in June 2018, Kizer says she shot and killed Volar in self-defense after he drugged her and tried to rape her. Chrystul Kizer was freed from jail on a $400,000 bail in June but is still fighting her case. She faces life in prison. A key figure in this story is Kenosha County District Attorney Michael Graveley, the prosecutor in Kizer’s case, who will also decide how to prosecute the officers involved in Jacob Blake’s shooting.

Well, for more on this story and the role of the Kenosha police and prosecutors in it, we go to Akron, Ohio, where we’re joined by Washington Post reporter Jessica Contrera, who has covered this story extensively. Last year she wrote an in-depth piece headlined “He was sexually abusing underage girls. Then, police said, one of them killed him.”

So, Jessica, thanks for joining us. Why don’t you go back to 2018 and talk about what happened and why Chrystul Kizer ended up in jail and is facing life in prison?

JESSICA CONTRERA: Thanks so much for having me.

Yes, Chrystul Kizer was 16 years old when she met Randy Volar. She was living in Milwaukee at the time. Her family had moved there recently, and they were in and out of homelessness. Randy Volar was sexually abusing Chrystul for over a year. We know this because he filmed it, and there’s video evidence of him filming sexual abuse of other underage Black girls.

In June of 2018, Chrystul says she went to his house one night because she had had a fight with her boyfriend, that she was hoping to just find refuge in this adult, who she had come to trust. And what happened was that in the middle of the night, Chrystul shot and killed Randy Volar. She had brought a gun with her to his house. She lit the house on fire, and she fled in his car. The prosecutors in the case say that Chrystul premeditated the murder, that she intended to go there and kill Mr. Volar in — they say, because she was interested in stealing his car. Chrystul tells an entirely different story. I’ve spoken to her at length from jail. She says that she was acting in self-defense.

And basically, Chrystul is at the center of this case that says everything about the sexual trauma that so many young Black girls go through when they are trafficked, and what can happen. She is not the first sex trafficking victim to be criminalized for what she says is self-defense, but her case took place in Kenosha. And so, it really says a lot about the police force there, the prosecutors there. And she’s now out, but she is still charged with life in prison — or, excuse me, she is still charged with first-degree intentional homicide and could face life in prison.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Jessica Contrera, when you talk about what this says a lot about the criminal justice system in Kenosha, we recall that after the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, it was discovered that there had been systematic abuse by the police in the Black community almost as — in terms of tickets and warrants, to basically raise revenue for the town, that were directed against the Black community. What have you found in your reporting of how Kenosha police have dealt with situations or crimes within the — that affect the Black community?

JESSICA CONTRERA: Yes, I can speak to what happened to Chrystul specifically. We know that when Chrystul — at the time that Chrystul was being sexually abused by Randy Volar, he was under investigation from the Kenosha Police Department. The Kenosha Police Department actually arrested him in February. And during the course of that arrest, they raided his home and found video evidence that — they found video evidence that Mr. Volar was sexually abusing multiple underage Black girls. They didn’t know how old these girls were. In their documents, they said that they believed that some of the girls appeared to be as young as 12. They also found video evidence that he had hundreds, they said, of videos of child pornography.

But on that very same day, they released Randy Volar. And three months passed before they turned that evidence over to the district attorney. And even once the district attorney had that evidence, 12 days passed before Mr. Volar was killed, and they no longer could prosecute the case.

AMY GOODMAN: Jessica Contrera —

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And what was the —

AMY GOODMAN: Oh, go ahead, Juan.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: What was the reason for the three-month delay in turning over the evidence to the district attorney?

JESSICA CONTRERA: So, the Kenosha Police Department would not comment for my story. They still have not provided a reason for that. The Kenosha district attorney says that they had assigned a sex crimes prosecutor to the case and were under continued investigation, trying to figure out things like how old the girls were and what charges were available. But we spoke, in the course of our reporting, to other district attorneys, other prosecutors who have experience with sex crimes, who say that this case, with so much video evidence, was something that should have been handled in a much different way.

AMY GOODMAN: You were with Chrystul’s mother when she opened the boxes of evidence that had been gotten under discovery? Is that right, Jessica? Can you describe what she saw? I mean, we’re talking about hundreds of pictures and videotapes — that the police had when they released him.

JESSICA CONTRERA: Yes. So, in the course of our reporting, I of course tried to get access to the investigative file on Mr. Volar, and the police continued to deny that request. But Chrystul had access to that information and — while she was in jail. And because she moved between jail and a prison at the time, the box that the evidence was in was actually mailed to her mother.

And so, I was with her mother when she was seeing for the first time a partial report of the investigation into Mr. Volar. And there were a number of pictures that were screenshots from these videos, including a screenshot of her daughter, that she could see that police had evidence that her daughter was with this man, and that they had this evidence that he was abusing not only her, but multiple girls. It was just devastating to watch. I can’t describe. You know, her mother was, of course, crying and screaming. And her mom was grappling with the fact that if this man had been arrested and if he had been held, her daughter wouldn’t have done what she did, and her daughter wouldn’t be facing life in prison.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And could you talk about the affirmative defense for child sex trafficking victims that Chrystul Kizer’s legal team is attempting to use in this case?

JESSICA CONTRERA: Yes. Thank you so much for asking. That’s a really important part of this case.

So, in many states, there are versions of what’s called the affirmative defense for sex trafficking victims. So, in this case, Chrystul was clearly a sex trafficking victim because she was underage at the time. And so, what the affirmative defense allows someone to do is point to a crime that they committed and say that they committed that crime because they were a sex trafficking victim at the time. Now, this is something that is used frequently across the country for charges related to prostitution or solicitation. It is also sometimes used for things that young women, in most cases, can be forced into, such as robbery or carrying drugs. It has not, anywhere across the country, been used in a case of a homicide. And Chrystul Kizer’s defense team says that in this particular circumstance she should be allowed to use the affirmative defense to explain what happened.

AMY GOODMAN: And Graveley? Can you talk about the DA? Because that goes to this case today, which we’re not asking you to comment on, and Jacob Blake, but he is the DA involved in both cases.

JESSICA CONTRERA: Yes, absolutely. So, Michael Graveley is the district attorney of Kenosha County. And he, in Chrystul’s case, has been at the center of it from the very beginning. He has resisted being swayed by public opinion in any way, and I think he would be the first to tell you that, that even though there are over 100,000 signatures on a petition for Chrystul, even though protesters have come to his office and have come to where he teaches to try to get him to listen, to understand what they see as Chrystul as a victim, he has been very persistent in saying that he will not be swayed by public opinion.

And I think we saw that in his reaction after Jacob Blake. He got up to the microphone and said that a thorough investigation would be conducted, of course, before he came to any decision, and that he would make his decision only on the basis of the results of the investigation.

AMY GOODMAN: Jessica Contrera, we want to thank you for being with us, reporter at The Washington Post. We’re going to link to your piece that you did on Chrystul Kizer’s case. That piece is headlined “He was sexually abusing underage girls. Then, police said, one of them killed him.” This certainly is reminiscent of the Cyntoia Brown case.

This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org. When we come back, we go to Louisiana, people in areas devastated by Hurricane Laura. We’re going to go to those in immigration jails. Stay with us.