By Ruth Conniff
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Damon Terrell finally got his day in court yesterday more than four weeks after he was tackled and driven to the floor by Capitol Police officers, handcuffed, and arrested for felony battery of a police officer. He spent three days in jail awaiting arraignment. On August 29 Terrell was released on a signature bond with the condition that he not enter the Capitol building.
Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne asked the arraignment judge to schedule a charging hearing for September 12 so that he could thoroughly examine the police reports and video evidence to determine what, if any, charges to bring against Terrell. At that hearing Ozanne said he was still sorting through the evidence and needed until September 23 to make a decision.
Yesterday DA Ozanne declined to prosecute any of the charges leveled against Terrell by the Capitol Police: felony battery of a police officer and misdemeanor resisting arrest and disorderly conduct. Ozanne said that after a thorough review of the evidence, there was not enough to meet the burden of proof required to make the charges stick in court.
Terrell still may face a civil forfeiture charge of unlawful assembly, even though he was present at the Capitol on August 26 to observe and photograph the arrests of people who were participating in the daily Solidarity Sing Along, not to participate in the gathering itself.
DA Ozanne at Damon Terrell's arraignment on August 29, 2013. (Photo by Rebecca Kemble)
Now that he's off the hook for what appear to be trumped up charges against him, Damon Terrell will be pursuing a civil rights action against the police officers involved with his arrest and the Capitol Police department itself. Part of that lawsuit will likely involve a request for an injunction against any further arrests for singing -- or reporting on singing -- in the Capitol.
Videos of Terrell's violent arrest have generated widespread public outrage and an outpouring of support for the Solidarity Sing Along from across the state. Former state banking commissioner Bill Dixon said, "This is merely one of dozens (of arrests) where dozens of videos and witness statements support charges that the Capitol Police engage, with regularity, in breaking the law, and perjuring themselves in their statements -- with the support and, likely, encouragement of Walker, his staff, and the hierarchy of the Department of Administration." He added, "It is long past time for some public official to call out, and stop, this out of control force which far too often acts like they are at a lunch counter, bus terminal, or the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma in the 1960s."
Between July 24, 2013, and September 6, 2013, a total of 186 people have been arrested in the Capitol and issued a total of 350 citations. Many of those people have attended their initial court appearances, registered a plea of not guilty or they stood mute, and requested jury trials.
Sixteen criminal charges -- including criminal resisting arrest, obstructing, battery of a police officer and criminal trespassing of a dwelling -- have been leveled against a dozen or so people, including The Progressive Senior Editor Matt Rothschild. District Attorney Ozanne has declined to prosecute Rothschild and most of the rest of them.
There have been no arrests at the Capitol since September 6, and the emergency rules under which the citations were written expired September 12. The Department of Administration has not requested an extension of the rules, nor has it introduced a permanent version of them.
It is not clear what the Walker administration's next strategy for combating the Sing Along will be since the mass arrests have failed to do anything but amplify the voices of those they would silence.
Neither Capitol Police Chief David Erwin nor Department of Administration Public Information Officer Stephanie Marquis has responded to requests for interviews on the subject. They are likely up to their eyeballs in paperwork preparing for potentially 350 jury trials over the next several months.
The strategy for those participating in the Solidarity Sing Along remains exactly the same as it was the day it began on March 11, 2011: Come to the Capitol at noon, sing for an hour, return the next day and do it again.
Rebecca Kemble reports for The Progressive magazine and website. She also participates when she can in the Solidarity Sing Along.