The Wisconsin State Capitol Police Should Be Abolished
By Carl Gibson, Reader Supported News
27 August 13
"On my honor, I will never betray my badge, my integrity, my character, or the public trust. I will always have the courage to hold myself and others accountable for our actions. I will always uphold the constitution, and will remain loyal to my community and the agency I serve." -Law Enforcement Oath of Honor
've written twice explaining the ridiculous lengths Wisconsin State Capitol Police are willing to go to arrest people for singing without a permit. But on August 26th, the Capitol PD escalated it even more, from merely arresting singers and observers to violently attacking them. This excessively antagonistic behavior exhibited when responding to nonviolent protests is only made worse by the department's chief and top deputy both getting questionably large raises in the midst of the crackdown. The Capitol Police have repeatedly violated every part of the oath taken by all law enforcement, are an unnecessary burden on Wisconsin taxpayers and should be abolished.
Since July 24, State Capitol Police Chief David Erwin has been ordering the daily mass arrests of singers in the capitol rotunda, issuing over 300 citations for "unlawful assembly." In a 40-page ruling in mid-July, a federal judge threw out the Walker administration's rules that groups larger than four require a permit to assemble in public spaces. Judge Conley also wrote in detail about how the Wisconsin state capitol has traditionally been used as a public forum for the people to meet and peaceably air their grievances to their government without fear of arrest or intimidation. Article 1, Section 4, of the Wisconsin State Constitution prioritizes the rights of free speech and free assembly as fundamental rights of every citizen of the state. By arresting nonviolent dissenters for exercising their constitutional rights, Chief Erwin has betrayed the law enforcement oath, failing to uphold the constitution.
Since Judge Conley isn't ruling until January 2014 on new restrictions that forbid groups larger than 20 from assembling without a permit, Chief Erwin is using the lack of judicial precedent to arbitrarily arrest any participant in the Solidarity Singalong. Arrestees have included a sitting city alder, a school board member, two firefighers, teenagers, grandmothers, teachers, journalists, mothers with small children, and many others. On August 26th, two brothers, 25-year-old CJ and 22-year-old Damon Terrell, were both violently arrested in a shocking display of police brutality previously unseen in the state capitol. Even local TV stations have dedicated editorial time to criticizing the Capitol Police Department for "overkill."
This video clearly shows police arresting CJ Terrell for singing. He sits down and refuses to cooperate with an illegal arrest, asking instead for his citation to be issued in the rotunda rather than going through the process of being handcuffed and processed in the capitol basement. His younger brother, Damon, was taking pictures and observing when Capitol Police advanced on him. In the video, you can see him backing away with his hands up before four officers tackle him to the ground without provocation. One officer claimed he was injured while arresting Damon, and Damon is being tentatively charged with felony battery of an officer. At the time of this writing, Damon is still being held in Dane County Jail without bond. While some local media chose to only get the DoA's account of what happened, several eyewitness accounts, including my own, attest that Damon's arresting officer got a small cut on his arm from a reporter's watch as he lunged after Damon, whom he decided to blame for the small injury. Through his brutal means of enforcement, Erwin has failed the oath he and his department swore to uphold.
Chief Erwin has also directly contradicted Department of Administration policy when it comes to the arrests of singers who don't have a permit. When asked in December of 2011 whether or not violators of the permit policy would be arrested, former DoA spokeswoman Jocelyn Webster said, "There's a fundamental misunderstanding of this policy if there was a belief arrests were going to stem from this policy." She was also quoted in a different report saying, "No one is going to be arrested for not being in compliance with the permit policy. It's kind of funny that anybody even thinks that they would be. The standard by which law enforcement will take law enforcement action remains the same." By violating the policy of the agency that oversees his department, Chief Erwin has violated the law enforcement oath, refusing to hold himself or his deputies accountable for their actions.
Chief Erwin was appointed to head the capitol police by Governor Scott Walker after former chief Charlie Tubbs was forced out and shifted to a new position as Dane County Emergency Manager. Many Republicans in Wisconsin were upset at Tubbs' humane treatment of the protesters who occupied the state capitol in early 2011, when he made the decision to talk and reason with the protesters instead of arresting them all and throwing them out. Erwin and the Walker Department of Administration, which oversees the capitol police, are now under scrutiny after it was reported that Erwin and his top deputy, Dan Blackdeer, all engaged in a bureaucratic shell game to circumvent state rules against hefty, spontaneous pay raises for specific individuals.
While Walker gave all public employees a 1% raise this year, he moved Erwin and Blackdeer to two "phantom jobs" within the DoA for just one day, then moved them back to their old positions with double-digit pay raises. Chief Erwin now makes over $111,000 a year, $720 of which was retroactive. Some Wisconsin state legislators have called for an investigation into the pay increases to see if they followed state rules, which forbid retroactive pay increases for public employees.
Exhibit A in the Kissick v. Huebsch lawsuit filed by the ACLU showed that roughly 90% of all arrests ordered by Chief Erwin were dismissed in court. This is clear evidence that Erwin is not only costing the state more tax dollars through his unjustified and excessive salary increase, but also in superfluous court costs of hundreds of thousands of dollars, incurred through Erwin's unlawful suppression of dissent. In gaming the state out of money for an unjustified raise, Chief Erwin has violated the law enforcement oath by betraying the public trust. Erwin should be fired, and the Capitol Police Department should be abolished.
I'm not saying to do away with police protection for elected officials conducting the state's business. But just as the Wisconsin Department of Administration, which oversees the capitol building and the state capitol police, contracts with the City of Madison Fire Department and EMT services, there's no reason they can't also contract with the Madison Police Department for any law enforcement needs.
University of Wisconsin Police Chief Sue Riseling summed it up best in her testimony at a July public hearing on the DoA's permitting rules.
"It is more important that the principles of democracy remain healthy, than it is for a building interior to remain quiet."