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DANE COUNTY | COURTROOM OUTBURST

Wisconsin ACLU president says courtroom arrest was unconstitutional, organization investigating

William Sulton

ACLU of Wisconsin President William Sulton speaks outside of the Dane County Courthouse Friday.

An advocate’s arrest last week months after a courtroom outburst at Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne was “undoubtedly an unconstitutional violation,” the president of the ACLU of Wisconsin said Friday.

Jessica Williams, an employee of the grassroots organization Freedom Inc., was arrested last week ahead of the sentencing in Dane County Circuit Court of Kenyairra Gadson, who was convicted of shooting and killing a man in a Downtown parking ramp in 2018. Gadson claimed the shooting was in self-defense.

After a jury convicted Gadson in January, Williams stood up on a back bench in the courtroom and shouted at the district attorney, “Ismael Ozanne, we’re coming for you. You better be ready.”

Bailiffs removed Williams and cleared the courtroom, but she was not arrested at the time. She was arrested last Friday outside of the courtroom as she was scheduled to attend a rally coinciding with Gadson’s sentencing hearing, The Capital Times reported.

“The law doesn’t permit somebody to make an arrest under these circumstances,” the ACLU’s William Sulton said, standing outside the courthouse Friday as dozens gathered to protest the arrest. “We should not allow government officials to say, ‘Arrest this person, arrest that person because they said something I don’t like.’”

Williams was arrested May 6 on suspicion of disorderly conduct, “resisting or obstructing” arrest and simple battery, Dane County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Elise Schaffer said Friday. She was released Tuesday.

Another advocacy group, Freedom Action Now, called on Ozanne to resign and the Dane County District Attorney’s Office to drop any charges against Williams. But no charges have been filed against Williams, and an Ozanne spokesperson said the district attorney’s office isn’t handling the case.

It’s unclear what other agency might be considering charges against Williams. A spokesperson for Attorney General Josh Kaul could not immediately say whether the state Department of Justice was handling the matter.

“Taking Jessica as a political prisoner is not justice,” Rep. Francesca Hong, D-Madison, said Friday. “It is oppression, and we will not stand for it.”

Sulton called Williams’ January comments “amorphous,” adding that it could have been a reference to ousting Ozanne in an election. Ozanne was reelected in 2020 to a four-year term. Sulton said he was pleased with Ozanne’s decision not to handle the case but still said what happened to Williams was alarming.

“This is a shameful display of state-sanctioned repression by an elected official, and is a gross abuse of power,” Freedom Inc. posted on Facebook.

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