“As a matter of fact, you have had a person attend your protests in Camp Douglas who has threatened to kill our Deputies.” This piece of startling news was revealed to me in a letter from Juneau County, Wisconsin, Undersheriff Craig Stuchlik dated July 25.
I had written to the sheriff’s department requesting documents under the Open Records Law and for an explanation of the department’s response to a demonstration at Volk Field, a Wisconsin Air National Guard base near the town of Camp Douglas, where my colleague at Voices for Creative Nonviolence Kathy Kelly and I had been arrested on February 23, carrying a loaf of bread and a letter for the base commander. There is a facility at this base where military personnel are trained in the operation of remotely controlled Shadow Drones that have been instrumental in the targeted assassination program that legal experts label war crimes and that military experts say recruit more enemies for our country than they kill.
Undersheriff Stuchlik put this purported threat into a broader context that suggests that the sheriff’s department views Voices for Creative Nonviolence and the Wisconsin Coalition to Ground the Drones and End the Wars that organizes these demonstrations as hate groups: “Law Enforcement Officers are being targeted in the United States by hate groups because they stand for law and order. Law Enforcement Officers are being executed by these hate groups at an alarming rate and it does not appear to be slowing down.”
One of my specific requests had concerned the department’s practice of singling out of protesters’ vehicles for scrutiny and frivolous citations. Stuchlik admitted that on February 23, deputies “ran” the license plate numbers of “all vehicles… that appeared to be involved in the protest,” even when parked legally. “When Deputies respond to such incidents, we need to know who we are dealing with,” said Stuchlik. “Thus the reason that we run license numbers. As I mentioned before, you have had a party attend your protests who has openly threatened to kill us.”
My letter asked for explanations of other police responses to protests at Volk Field. Although police reports confirm that Kathy and I were arrested on open land and out of sight of any residence, the complaint that deputies swore against us in District Court fraudulently alleged that we had “entered the dwelling of Volk Field” and charged us with the crime of “trespass to a dwelling”. (“Dwelling” is defined in the Wisconsin trespass statute as “a structure or that part of a structure intended to be used as a home , residence or sleeping place by one or two or more persons.”) We were also charged with “disorderly conduct”, even though we had no more engaged in the “violent, abusive, indecent, profane, boisterous, unreasonably loud or otherwise disorderly conduct” that this second charge is supposed to cover than we had broken into anyone’s house for the purpose of causing a disturbance. These phony charges were soon dropped, but not before Kathy and I were held overnight in the Juneau County Jail on $350 bonds. The county’s “trespass to land” forfeiture ordinance that we were eventually cited for is not a criminal offense. Had the sheriff’s department charged us properly on February 23, they would have not been able to take us to jail but could only have written us tickets at the site and let us go on our way.
On the day of our protest, Juneau County Sheriff Brent Oleson made a statement to the media: “Certainly anybody who wants to make a statement and protest an issue, I don’t have a problem with that, but in doing so, they can’t affect the rights of other individuals and that’s what these individuals seem to do,” he told a reporter for the local paper. “They’ll protest peacefully on the side and then after a period of time they impede traffic and basically interfere with the rights of others and that’s not going to be tolerated… I would hope the punishments get harsher, but that remains to be seen.” My Open Records Law request sought documentation of Sheriff Oleson’s allegation, but Undersheriff Stuchlik’s letter confirmed that the sheriff’s department has no record indicating that protestors at Volk Field impeded traffic or interfered with the rights of others on February 23 or at any other time.
An appeal from the Coalition to meet with members of the Sheriff’s Department to discuss the threats made against them has not been answered. On August 2, Undersheriff Stuchlik denied another Open Records Law request from me for information on the threat, “Because it is an ongoing investigation, the information in the investigation is not open to the public at this time. In order to protect the rights of the person that is being investigated, we cannot release their name.” While other protestors who have attempted to enter the base peacefully with a loaf of bread have been jailed, the one who “has openly threatened to kill” deputies at the demonstrations might get off scot-free. As Stuchlik explains, “At the conclusion of this investigation, either the case will be closed or sent to the District Attorney’s Office for possible charges… Because we are Law Enforcement, we have been threatened in the past and I am sure we will be threatened in the future. The threats come with the job.”
On August 19, when I finally got to trial on the reduced charge of “trespass to land,” (Kathy declined to contest the forfeiture) the whole thing took less than twenty minutes. District Attorney Mike Solovey had subpoenaed three county sheriff’s deputies and a representative from Volk Field security to testify against me, but only one of the deputies, my own arresting officer Robb Pfaff, showed up along with Air Force Sergeant Scott Glass. The DA told my arresting officer he was not needed and sent him away, so Sergeant Glass was the only witness to testify. To say the least, it is an unusual trial where no arresting police officer is called to the stand, especially considering that one had been present and ready.
In the narrow parameters the court allowed, the case was open and shut. Sergeant Glass testified that he asked me to leave base property and I did not. Under my cross examination, however, he admitted that Kathy Kelly and I did not disrupt traffic as we attempted to bring our bread and a letter to the commander. Each of the deputies who had been subpoenaed had signed statements that Sergeant Glass had told them that our actions had disrupted traffic. Two of them had sworn declarations that they had witnessed this disruption themselves. Since none of them took the stand, these discrepancy could not be challenged. Sergeant Glass’ testimony was reasonable and truthful, contradicting both Sheriff Oleson’s false statements to the press and his deputies’ bogus reports made on the day of our arrest. The DA evidently did not want to leave the sheriff’s deputies’ obvious perjuries exposed to my examination.
In my closing statement to the court, I noted that the strange strategy of keeping the police off the stand is an obvious cover for gross misconduct by the sheriff’s department and that, considering the paucity of evidence presented at trial I should be found not guilty. Judge Paul Curran, quite annoyed, snapped that I was on trial for trespass to land only, and not to any other crime the police previously alleged. He found me guilty and gave me a fine of $223. I pointed out to Judge Curran that the law requires him to allow me allocution, to make a statement before passing sentence, and that I expected to be heard. With this Judge Curran lost his temper and said that if I regretted the closing statement he had already “allowed” me to make at trial, it was too late now to take it back. The experience of drone protestors with Judge Curran is that he has his little way of abruptly ending hearings and storming out of the courtroom after making such absurd, dramatic and puzzling non sequiturs as this.
For more than four years, members of the Wisconsin Coalition to Ground the Drones and End the Wars have sponsored a monthly vigil at Volk Field. They have made many unsuccessful attempts to voice their concerns to officials at Volk Field and letters mailed to the base commander have gone unanswered. On at least three previous occasions when vigilers have attempted to walk onto the base and hand deliver their messages, base personnel have halted them in public space before they ever reached the base’s front gate. On these occasions, Juneau County sheriff’s deputies have arrested these protestors and transported them to the county jail on trumped up charges that have always been dismissed. Many good women and men have patiently endured the harassment of Sheriff Oleson’s deputies and the derision and condescension of Judge Curran’s court.
Those attending protests at Volk Field include local activists and others from around the country. Among those arrested there have been at least one attorney, members of the clergy, several academics, healthcare professionals and Catholic Workers. Many of these are grandparents and none has ever been accused of a crime of violence. There are no gentler and kinder people to be found anywhere. Undersheriff Stuchlik’s contention that any one of us would be targeting officers for execution is absurd on many levels, not the least because our protests at Volk Field are witness against targeted assassinations in the first place. We oppose killing, threats of killing, and violence against anyone, anywhere, for any purpose or justification whatsoever. Undersheriff Stuchlik says that “the threats come with the job,” but the protesters at Volk Field disagree and do not accept that anyone should be targeted or threatened for extermination because of the color of their skin, the country they live in, their religion or the uniform they wear.
Undersheriff Stuchlik’s terrifying contention that “Officers are being targeted at an alarming rate” is contradicted by statistics from the National Police Officers Memorial Fund that indicate that killings of police officers have declined over the past twenty years. As for the “hate groups” that are executing police officers, it might be noted, too, that Micah Xavier Johnson who recently murdered five Dallas police officers was an Army Reservist and a veteran of the senseless violence in Afghanistan and Gavin Eugene Long, who killed three officers in Baton Rouge, was a former Marine who had participated in the destruction of Iraq. It is the protestors that Undersheriff Stuchlik chooses to slander who are constructively addressing the roots of the violence against police officers that he decries.
The actions of the Juneau County Sheriff’s Department show a disturbing pattern that is reminiscent of the chilling effects of McCarthyism in the 1950s and the COINTELPRO activities of the FBI in the 1960s. In some cases these corrupt practices were effective in silencing crucial voices of reason and sometimes they crushed whole movements. The appearance that the Juneau County Sheriff’s Department is likewise deliberately conspiring to discourage citizens from exercising their constitutionally protected rights to peaceably assemble for the redress of grievances cannot be discounted.
Malfeasance by the police and the courts, as they protect the criminals and the twist laws to jail and malign those who cannot abide the killing going on in their names, is not an aberration. It is not limited to the treatment of a handful of white middle-aged people in one rural Wisconsin county by uninformed and frightened small town cops and judges. Black Lives Matter has been vilified as a hate group by higher authorities than Undersheriff Stuchlik. Prosecutors, politicians and police have over filled the nation’s jails with poor and Black people by manipulating charges.
In North Dakota, Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier is engaging in a similar “psyops” (psychological operations) campaign as his Juneau County counterparts by making unsubstantiated accusations regarding the indigenous people gathered nonviolently at Standing Rock to oppose the Bakken pipeline. These include making public “reports of uh, weapons, of uh, pipebombs, of some shots fired, of vandalism happening in that area, and uh, assaults on private security.” In both places false accusations are used to justify oppressive, disproportionate and even illegal police responses to peaceful protests. Planting suspicions, even if they were not blatant fabrications, that we have among us those who would so violate the spirit and purpose of our organizations as to threaten violence without identifying that person to us is an attack on our communities.
Such misconduct by police only escalates the likelihood of violence, just as the drone attacks by United States military escalate the violence in the many nations where they are used. The ignorance and fear that seems to inform the actions of the Juneau County Sheriff’s Department is not so different from that which impels our nation’s foreign policy and what drives the prison industrial complex here at home.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, long ago noted that the violence in American streets is a direct and inevitable result of the violence of our county’s wars. The racial profiling that results in the killings of unarmed Black citizens, even children, by police in American streets is the domestic expression of the “patterns of behavior” surveilled by Shadow Drones that trigger the “signature strike” executions of people of color in the wars abroad. The violence in our streets is the war coming home and running the license plates of law abiding citizens will not make Juneau County Sheriff’s deputies any safer so long as those wars rage on.