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Experts criticize Wisconsin Capitol protest arrests

| August 29, 2013 | 0 Comments
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(AP) Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s administration’s efforts to arrest protesters in the Wisconsin Capitol rotunda are enflaming the situation, security and law enforcement experts say.

University of Wisconsin-Madison law school professor and police procedure expert Michael Scott told the Wisconsin State Journal the strategy is a head-scratcher.

“The protests had dwindled down to nothing,” Scott said. “Why would you fan the flames and get it cranked up again?”

Protesters have been gathering in the Capitol rotunda almost daily for more than two years to sing anti-Walker songs. Capitol Police Chief David Erwin promised last August to come down hard on them, saying he wanted to make the Capitol a building everyone could enjoy, not just a select few. Walker’s administration controls the Capitol Police.

Erwin’s officers started issuing protesters citations but most of them were dismissed. In July, though, U.S. District Judge William Conley struck down the state’s policy of requiring groups of four or more to obtain a permit to gather in the Capitol. Conley let the policy stand for groups of 20 or more.

Capitol Police launched another crackdown July 24. They have shifted their tactics, marching into the crowd, singling out individual protesters, handcuffing them and leading them off to their basement headquarters to issue citations ranging from lacking a permit to disorderly conduct. Officers have made more than 300 arrests in the rotunda since the crackdown began.

But more protesters continue to show up, saying they don’t need a permit to exercise their free speech rights. They also argue that since they’re not an official group, no one can assume the liability for damage that comes with a permit.

The protesters’ attorneys allege the police are overzealous, citing examples of ticketing a woman who was only an observer and two journalists. On Monday things turned violent when officers tackled a protester and hauled him off.

Scott and other crowd control experts said governments can regulate public gatherings but must balance free-speech rights. Police have become more accommodating of protesters since Vietnam War demonstrations in the 1960s as long as they’re not endangering safety or causing a disruption, Scott said.

U.S. Senate Sergeant-At-Arms Terry Gainer, a former U.S. Capitol Police chief, told the newspaper officers should try to broker a peaceful resolution with the protesters.

“Arresting people and being harsh on protesters does nothing but make the police the target of the disruption,” Gainer said.

A DOA spokeswoman didn’t immediately return a message from The Associated Press seeking comment.

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Category: State News

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