Rep. Brett Hulsey (D-Madison) pled "no contest" Aug. 15 to disorderly conduct for flipping a 9-year-old boy, whom he did not know, off his inner tube while both were swimming on July 4 at Spring Harbor Beach.
According to Madison Police Capt. Vic Wahl, Hulsey was cited for "the totality of the events that happened" that day, which also included his taking photographs of the boy and other children in the water. But Wahl says Hulsey's main transgression was, as an adult, "engaging in horseplay with a child who is a stranger to him -- in the water, no less."
By pleading no contest -- recorded by the court as "guilty-no contest" -- Hulsey was fined $114, due by Oct. 14.
Hulsey, in a phone interview, says he did not touch the boy or flip him off the inner tube. He says that when he arrived at the beach he observed the boy "splashing" two little girls "wildly." Hulsey says that when he walked into the water, he told the boy not to splash his sisters. He says the boys told him they were not his sisters. "I was just concerned that, as a parent, it was a potentially dangerous situation for those little girls," says Hulsey.
When Hulsey was walking back to the shore, he says, he shouted "boo" to the boy, which startled him. "I did not touch him, but he rolled over and fell off the inner tube in about a foot of water."
This version of events does not appear in a police report prepared by Detective Eric Vosburg, who interviewed Hulsey on July 12. Vosburg reports that Hulsey did tell him that he never touched the boy or his flotation device. But there is nothing in the report about Hulsey fearing for the safety of other children. Hulsey insists he told the detective his concerns and does not know why they don't appear in the report.
Capt. Wahl, however, responds that "clearly that [information] was not conveyed to the detectives." He notes that two detectives were present at Hulsey's interview and both took notes. Typically, says Wahl, detectives compare notes to make sure neither misses anything. "They are trained to do accurate reports on what people tell them."
According to Vosburg's report, Hulsey described to the detective how he lumbered silently over to the children with his arms off to his side at shoulder level, palms facing down. Hulsey said the children laughed at this.
In Vosburg's report, Hulsey also tells the detective that once on shore he tried to take a photo of the sunset and a sailboat, and that the children were in his field of vision. Hulsey said he deleted the photo after the children said they didn't want to be in the picture.
The July 4 incident was first investigated by police officer Stephen Mackesey after the department received a call from the mother of the 9-year-old.
According to Mackesey's July 5 police report, the mother reported becoming concerned when she saw a man she didn't know, later identified as Hulsey, swim up to her son and tip over his inner tube. The mother said Hulsey appeared to be then "wrestling or splashing" her son.
When Hulsey started taking pictures from the shore, the boy's father asked him what he was doing, according to the police report. Hulsey reportedly said it was "okay," noting that he knew the boy's grandparents, who live in a house adjacent to the beach.
Mackesey's report notes that the mother stated she had an obligation to report the incident because she was "worried if this individual may have done this before or may do more in the future."Mackesey also interviewed the boy's father, grandfather and grandmother, who works for the city of Madison. All reported that the interaction with Hulsey left them feeling "uncomfortable."
Hulsey says he is "flabbergasted" that he was charged with disorderly conduct.
"It seemed a little excessive to me, but I wanted to pay the ticket, say I'm sorry for the misunderstanding and move on." He says he does wish he had told the boy's father, when they spoke, that he had been concerned about the boy splashing the younger girls.
Under Madison Municipal Code, disorderly conduct is defined broadly. Anyone who engages in "violent, abusive, indecent, profane, boisterous, unreasonably loud or otherwise disorderly conduct under circumstances in which such conduct tends to cause or provide a disturbance" can be fined up to $500. This behavior could occur in a public or private space.