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Wisconsin lawmaker Sondy Pope threatened with arrest at Capitol for observing Solidarity Sing Along

Pope (left): "I have a duty to observe what is happening to my constituents who are expressing their discontent."
Credit:Brent Nicastro
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State Rep. Sondy Pope (D-Middleton) was threatened with arrest Tuesday for watching the Solidarity Sing Along from the floor above the noontime protest.

Tia Nelson, executive secretary of the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands, who was standing with Pope, was also threatened with arrest.

Nelson said she had stopped to observe the sing-along after leaving a meeting at the Capitol.

"I was told [by a Capitol Police officer] that if I didn't move I was subject to arrest," said Nelson. "They were also telling tourists that."

Nelson said she had no idea she would be subject to arrest just for observing the protest, which has targeted Gov. Scott Walker's policies each weekday at the Capitol since March 11, 2011.

"I've never joined the protest. I'm here doing my work."

Officer Andrew Hyatt was circling the upper level of the Rotunda on Tuesday, warning observers that the chief of police considered the sing-along an unlawful gathering and therefore spectators were subject to arrest.

"Whether singing or observing, everyone is subject to arrest," he told one observer. When asked to define the parameters in which observers were subject to arrest, Hyatt said "in this area."

Capitol Police Chief David Erwin maintains that participants in the Solidarity Sing Along need a permit to gather in the Capitol Rotunda.

Pope said she didn't say anything to the Capitol Police officer who threatened her with arrest, but she did leave her spot by the banister. "As a legislator I swore to uphold the Constitution of the United States. I think what [the police] are doing is unconstitutional. How can you arrest me for observing?

"I have a duty to observe what is happening to my constituents who are expressing their discontent," Pope added. "How can I be arrested for that?"

Pope said she is sickened by the "heavy-handed" approach of the Capitol Police and GOP administration. She noted an email sent July 29 by Assembly Chief Clerk Patrick Fuller to Assembly lawmakers advising them that, per the recommendation of the Capitol Police, they and their staff should "stay clear of protest areas as they occur in the Capitol building to protect people working and visiting the state Capitol."

Pope said she worries about the impression those visitors will take away of Wisconsin.

"I know there are tourists here. What must they think of this state?"

Pope and Nelson are not the first observers of the Sing Along to be threatened with arrest. A video by Arthur Kohl-Riggs of the July 26 sing-along documents Capitol Police warning observers they are subject to arrest.

Stephanie Marquis, spokesperson for the Department of Administration, which oversees the Capitol Police, did not respond to calls seeking confirmation of any actual arrests made of observers of the sing-along.

Kohl-Riggs, a daily presence at the sing-along, said that among those cited Tuesday were two individuals videotaping the proceedings on the floor of the Rotunda. But he did not know of anyone cited specifically for observing. He said that every time he asked Capitol Police for clarification on who was subject to arrest, he was told that "spectators are considered participants."

More than 100 citations have been issued to Sing Along protesters by Capitol police since a new round of arrests began at the Capitol two weeks ago. That is in addition to the more than 200 citations that had already been issued since July 2012.

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