New police chief plans crack down on protesters at Capitol
Post by Emily Mills on 8/28/2012 4:00pm
Newly appointed Capitol Police Chief Dave Erwin said Monday that he plans to clamp down on protesters who don’t follow new building rules because he wants to “restore a sense of normalcy and safety” to the statehouse.
In an interview with the Associated Press Erwin said that he fully supports the right of people to petition their government but that he believed some of the behavior displayed by certain protesters at the Capitol had crossed the line into harassment and intimidation.
“There are some incidents where we have some protesters who are really pushing the envelope,” Erwin said. “I understand it’s a political environment and some people feel that they have the right to do that, but there’s a line.”
The new chief also recently met with legislative aides in the building to recommend ways to protect themselves and legislators from potentially violent protesters. Erwin is also having panic buttons installed in some offices.
Rep. Brett Hulsey (D-Madison) told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he thought the buttons were a good idea, especially after he had someone wielding a box cutter enter his office in the spring of 2011. However, Hulsey noted, several Democratic aides left the meeting early after Erwin suggested they film protesters and, if threatened, use their free hand to punch the person.
Hulsey called the suggestion “bizarre.”
At least partially in reaction to Erwin’s new policies Tuesday’s daily meeting of the Solidarity Sing-along in the Capitol rotunda was somewhat larger and rowdier than normal. Rumors were flying that the new chief would use the opportunity to start enforcing new building rules adopted in December that require permits for visual displays and gatherings larger than four people, among other things.
No arrests were made at the sing-along on Tuesday, though participants reported "sporadic" aggression from both protesters and police.
The American Civil Liberties Union in Wisconsin held a press conference when the rules were announced in December raising serious concerns about their constitutionality and urged the Department of Administration not to enforce them until those issues were addressed.
At the time, ACLU communications director Stacy Harbaugh pointed out that signing the permits for visual displays and protests also waived the person or group’s rights to sue police officers for any acts during the event. The state’s decisions regarding how much of a police presence any given event would require—and how much it would cost protesters, who would be responsible under the new rules—were too vague and arbitrary, she said.
Capitol Police have issued protesters some 159 citations for everything from disorderly conduct to resisting arrest since February 2011, when the furor over Gov. Scott Walker’s budget “repair” bill became public.
According to the AP, “Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne, a Democrat, has dismissed 118 of the citations, including 12 criminal charges and 106 civil tickets. When asked why so many citations have been dismissed, the district attorney said in an email that his office looks at every case individually and whether prosecutors can meet the burden of proof.”
Erwin says Ozanne’s office is overworked, and that he reached an agreement with the DA and the Department of Justice to have Ozanne handle criminal complaints and the DOJ handle civil violations. “The agency, led by Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, already has taken over two citations against protest leader Jeremy Ryan,” according to the AP.
The DOA had held off enforcement of the new rules after the ACLU raised its concerns and the possibility of filing a lawsuit, but spokeswoman Stephanie Marquis said Monday that court decisions in other states upheld similar permit processes and validated their use in Wisconsin.
Erwin is a former Marine who, more recently, served as a State Patrol trooper and oversaw security for former Gov. Jim Doyle. He also served as a captain in charge of Gov. Scott Walker's security with the Dignitary Protection Unit, and as a commander of the State Patrol air support unit.
According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “[Erwin] makes $99,386 a year, down from the $111,066 made by his predecessor, Charles Tubbs, who left in June” to take a job as Dane County Emergency Services Manager.
Disclosure: Stacy Harbaugh is a member of the Dane101 Board of Directors, and reporter Emily Mills also works part-time for the ACLU of Wisconsin.
Emily Mills is Editor-At-Large for Dane101, as well as Editor of Our Lives Magazine. She is also a freelance writer, photographer, actor, and musician (drummer and singer in local band Little Red Wolf). Originally from several states up and down the Midwest Emily has called Madison home since 2000. Contact her at