After singing with the Raging Grannies of Madison at a rally outside the state Capitol Thursday, Andrea Musher stopped by the office of Rep. Dianne Hesselbein (D-Middleton).
Musher says when she left to use a nearby bathroom, six male Capitol Police officers and one female officer came into the bathroom, told her to put her hands behind her back, "slammed" her against the sink and handcuffed her. She says she was never told she was being arrested or read her rights. "What they kept telling me was, 'You match the description of a woman in a blue puffy coat who was carrying a gun,'" says Musher.
Musher says she was wearing a blue coat, but not a puffy one.
She says the female officer and one male officer stayed in the restroom after she was handcuffed. The female officer patted her down and the male officer went through her purse.
Musher says she told the officers the handcuffs hurt, but was told by the female police officer, "Well, handcuffs aren't supposed to be comfortable."
After finding no guns, the officers removed Musher's handcuffs.
Musher, who was alone in the restroom, says the experience was "terrifying."
Four Capitol Police officers Thursday afternoon also detained another member of the Raging Grannies in the Capitol. Mary Allexi, 71, says the officers told her they were looking for someone carrying a weapon and thought it might be her.
Allexi says she had on the customary apron Raging Grannies wear outside her long purple puffy coat. The officers told her they were going to pat her down, and they searched her coat but found nothing.
"It was very intimidating and very frightening," says Allexi.
Hesselbein called the incident involving Musher a "travesty."
"We want everyone to feel like they're welcome in our statehouse," she says. The Wisconsin Department of Administration communications office emailed a statement in response to a request for comment on these incidents: "Capitol Police were notified by the Dane County 911 center and Madison police officers who had entered the Capitol looking for a person they were attempting to locate and believed to be in the Capitol. Subsequently, Capitol Police followed up with two individuals inside the Capitol and determined these were not the individuals Dane County was looking for."
The DOA did not respond to a question seeking clarification on why it would be illegal for someone to carry a gun in the Capitol, given the state's concealed carry law.
The atmosphere has been charged at the Capitol since protests erupted in 2011 over Gov. Scott Walker's collective bargaining bill and proposed budget cuts . And relations between protesters and the Capitol police have grown more tense since Police Chief David Erwin began enforcing new permitting restrictions for gatherings at the Capitol in September 2012.
Rep. Chris Taylor (D-Madison) says she is concerned about a pattern of abusive arrests in the Capitol.
She says an African American constituent of hers, Colin Bowden, who ran for a Madison aldermanic seat last winter, was detained by Capitol Police on Jan. 15 when he was falsely identified as a suspect who had threatened violence.
In a March 4 letter to Department of Administration Secretary Mike Huebsch, Taylor said that Bowden was speaking with another individual in the Capitol Rotunda when police arrested and handcuffed him. "Mr. Bowden was not immediately informed as to the basis for his arrest, was not read his Miranda rights, and reports being dragged into the basement by several armed police officers."
Taylor told Huebsch that when Bowden later saw a picture of the suspect he discovered that, "except for his male gender and African American race, he bore no resemblance to the actual suspect."
Huebsch responded on May 15, telling Taylor that "the Capitol Police officers involved with contracting Mr. Bowden acted appropriately, reasonably and within the law."
But Musher is not convinced that officers acted appropriately or safely when barging into a bathroom they believed to be occupied by an armed individual.
"Nobody was safe in the way they handled it," she says.