“I am not going to shy away from controversy.”
The Republican nominee for sheriff in metro Phoenix spoke Monday to a group of conservative Arizona State University students who have been criticized for their fundraising efforts for the legal defense of a 17-year-old who authorities said had fatally shot two protesters last week in Wisconsin.
Jerry Sheridan said he isn’t worried about creating an unfavorable appearance by speaking at the online fundraiser by the College Republicans United, though he made it clear he wasn’t endorsing or criticizing the group’s fundraising.
Sheridan said he spoke to the group twice last year and agreed to his latest appearance two weeks ago, before authorities say Kyle Rittenhouse fatally shot two people and severely wounded a third person during an Aug. 25 anti-racism demonstration in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
“I have no opinion on what they are doing,” Sheridan said. “But I am a man of my word, and I told them I would speak to their group. And I am a strong enough person where I am not going to shy away from controversy.”
College Republicans United has said half of any funds it raises during the semester would go toward Rittenhouse’s legal defense fund, saying the 17-year-old didn’t deserve to have his life destroyed.
The group was denounced by another student Republican organization as a “radical, far-right extremist group.” The university said it can’t bar College Republicans United from raising money, but it doesn’t endorse the fundraiser.
Last year, the co-founders of College Republicans United, which split from the ASU College Republicans in 2018, had apologized after documents surfaced showing some group leaders making racist, homophobic and anti-Semitic comments online.
The victims in the shooting involving Rittenhouse were demonstrating against racism in the wake of the Aug. 23 shooting of Jacob Blake, who is Black, by a white police officer. Blake was paralyzed after being shot seven times. Rittenhouse told police he was trying to protect businesses and people and acted in self-defense.
“Law enforcement leaders should be honest, transparent and accountable,” Sheridan’s Democratic opponent, Sheriff Paul Penzone, said in a statement. “Promoting fear and using a tragedy to invoke support for a person accused of a horrific crime is abhorrent,”
College Republicans United said the criticism of the fundraising effort overlooks Rittenhouse’s due process rights. “Kyle is innocent until proven this wasn’t self-defense,” the group said in a statement.
Sheridan said he doesn’t know the details of what happened in Rittenhouse’s case, but insisted he wasn’t going to rely on news stories or social media postings to judge someone. He declined to say whether he supported the group’s fundraising effort.
“Whatever happened to (the presumption of) innocence before guilt?” Sheridan said. “People have already found him guilty. Let the process — the due process — work its way.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.