YouTube videos making the rounds on the Internet show a Dane County Board supervisor being cited by a Capitol police officer after her young children refused to stop displaying a protest sign on the second floor of the Capitol.
Melissa Sargent and her husband, Justin, who is chief of staff to Democratic state Sen. Chris Larson, were at the Capitol Sunday when they were approached by James Brooks, a state Capitol police officer, who asked Devin, 13, and Bailey, 11, to stop displaying the sign they were holding over the edge of the second floor railing. The sign said "Solidarity Forever."
Brooks was unfailingly polite but insisted that the boys were "breaking the administrative code set by the DOA" that allows protesting only in designated "protest areas" on the first floor. "We would like you to go downstairs and still display the sign all you want where the designated area is," he said.
Brooks asked Sargent, who represents Madison's north side on the County Board, if she would ask her children to take down the sign. He said he didn't want to have to issue a citation for a violation of the administrative code.
Sargent and her husband discussed the matter with the children and left it up to them. "I believe the constitution trumps the administrative code," Justin Sargent is heard saying in the video. "Whichever way they go I will stand behind them."
The children stood firm and so did their parents. Another police officer took the sign from the children.
Brooks escorted the family and the small crowd that had by then gathered to observe, and in many cases, videotape and record, the incident, to the police station in the basement of the Capitol. Melissa Sargent was given a $205.50 ticket for "other conduct as prohibited" under the Department of Administration Ordinance 2.14(2)(z)(d).
DOA spokeswoman Carla Vigue did not return a call seeking clarification on the ordinance or comment on the incident.
Melissa Sargent said she and her husband did not post any videos on YouTube and do not know who posted the first one, which had appeared by Sunday afternoon. She says that since the videos have surfaced she has received hate emails from people accusing her of using her kids and being an unfit mother.
She says that hurts and is not true.
"They may be 13 and 11 but they're smart guys," she said of her two oldest children. "There have been a lot of kids who have changed society and I'm pretty proud of my guys. Just because they're not old enough to vote doesn't mean they're not old enough to form an educated opinion."
Sargent's court date is April 8. She does not intend to pay the ticket and is seeking legal advice.
"It's a very ambiguous violation," she says. "I still firmly believe that the Constitution is on our side."
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