Wisconsin state Rep. Chris Taylor (D-Madison) blasted Capitol Police Chief David Erwin Friday afternoon for refusing to answer "basic questions" about the recent arrests at the state Capitol and for abruptly ending a meeting on the topic.
"I was very shocked and disappointed today when you and Department of Administrative Assistant Gwendolyn Coomer walked out of a meeting scheduled in my office," she wrote in a sharply worded letter (PDF) that was hand-delivered to Erwin's office in the state Capitol. Taylor also took the police chief to task for being unable to identify the "specific conduct you believe to be unlawful."
Erwin began enforcing permitting rules for the Capitol this week, resulting in the arrests of some 12 protesters for holding signs.
In an interview, Taylor said she had previously emailed Coomer for clarification on the policy and pressed Coomer and Erwin in their meeting to identify the unlawful conduct that people would be arrested for.
Taylor says that Erwin and Coomer told her that they would decide this on a "case-to-case basis" and that if people had a question about what was unlawful conduct, they should contact the Capitol police.
Taylor says she told Erwin and Coomer that this was "unacceptable" and that they needed to give people notice as to what behavior is prohibited. "Otherwise you get into subjective enforcement and potentially interfering with people's freedom of speech and political expression," she says.
Taylor says it was at this point that Erwin and Coomer walked out of her office without answering her questions.
Stephanie Marquis, spokeswoman for the Department of Administration, says that Erwin and Coomer left because of the way Taylor was acting.
"They left because of the unprofessional behavior," says Marquis. "Not because they had any problems talking about the policy."
Taylor says it "is not true" that she acted unprofessionally. "I asked direct questions, as I stated in my letter to the chief, and they refused to provide answers."
"My job," Taylor adds, "is to ask questions. If they can't take a legislator asking them pointed questions, they are in the wrong business."
Marquis says the citations issued this week were to people who did not get a required permit to gather in the Capitol. Permits are needed for gatherings of four or more people. Permit holders can display signs, but those without permits cannot, says Marquis.
But Taylor says the people ticketed this week were cited under the Department of Administration's administrative code -- 2.07, titled "Exterior and Interior Displays and Decorations -- not the Wisconsin State Facilities Access Policy, issued recently by the Department of Administration.
According to the code, "no displays, signs, banners, placards, decorations or graphic or artistic material may be erected, attached, mounted or displayed within or on the building or the grounds of any state office building or facility without the express written authority of the department."
Taylor says this language says nothing about people who are simply holding signs. And she says a court ruling this week by Dane County Circuit Court Judge Frank Remington agrees with that interpretation.
In order to meet the definition of "display," says Taylor, "it has to be more than just holding a sign."