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Brian Campbell in court

Brian Campbell, left, appearing in court on Feb. 26 with his lawyer, Sarah Schmeiser.

Police believe that Brian Campbell, who was arrested last month on suspicion of making explosives at his Far West Side apartment, went through a “life-altering” battery arrest in 2016 that could have affected him negatively, based on an essay he wrote about the arrest for a prosecution program designed for first-offenders, court documents state.

Campbell, 30, was placed in the Deferred Prosecution Program by the Dane County District Attorney’s Office in February 2017 after pleading guilty to battery for choking a fellow UW Hoofers sailor in September 2016. In an essay he wrote for the program, he bemoaned the publicity his arrest had garnered, the “depressing” time he spent in the Dane County Jail, the loss of a job he loved and the money he would have received from it, and the fact that he was now banned from UW-Madison property, according to a search warrant filed Wednesday in Dane County Circuit Court.

When his first attempt to write the essay was rejected by Deferred Prosecution as too “hostile,” he struck a slightly softer tone in a second attempt, adding to the “positives” of his involvement:

“I’m hopeful that the formal avenues for support can allow me to continue making the needed changes to my life so that I can become more ‘normal,’” Campbell wrote. “I have rough edges, tend to put my foot in my mouth quite often, have difficulty identifying and responding to the emotions of others, have difficulty expressing my own emotions, and would really like to be the kind of person other people might want to get (to) know.”

That ended in February, though, when Campbell was arrested after police and fire officials found an array of chemicals being stored and experimented with at Campbell’s apartment at 7410 Timber Lake Trail, along with items that appeared to trained eyes from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to be homemade bomb fuses, switches and pipe bombs.

The undated essay, in which Campbell was assigned to answer a question asking about the positive and negative impacts of being charged with the battery incident, was attached to the search warrant. Madison police Detective Lindsey Ludden attached the essay to the warrant, and a revised version of the essay written after the first version was thought by the Deferred Prosecution Unit to have struck a “hostile tone,” in the belief that Campbell’s arrest in September 2016 “was a life-altering event for him that had numerous negative repercussions.”

Ludden’s statement stops short of calling that arrest the catalyst that prompted Campbell to begin experimenting with bomb-making. Elsewhere in the warrant, Campbell is said to have told Ludden last month that he wasn’t making explosives or altering fireworks but said there was “a thrill” to his experiments.

The search warrant was filed so that Madison police could have the FBI in Milwaukee thoroughly search Campbell’s iPhone 7, seized after his arrest on Feb. 20. Madison police initially had gotten Campbell’s permission to search the phone for “limited content,” the warrant states.

Campbell’s lawyer, Sarah Schmeiser, said Thursday that she doesn’t believe that Campbell’s 2016 arrest was a spark that led him to start experimenting with explosives in his apartment, “not to any information that I have.” Evidence that the arrest could have embittered Campbell, she said, “seems pretty tenuous.”

In court Thursday, Campbell pleaded not guilty to second-degree reckless endangerment, possession of improvised explosives and misdemeanor bail jumping. He is scheduled to be back in court on April 30 for a final pre-trial hearing. Campbell remains in the Dane County Jail on $100,000 bail.

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Prosecutors on Wednesday also filed a motion for authorization to destroy some of the items taken from Campbell’s apartment and garage space that they said cannot be safely stored and are not needed as evidence in the case. Deputy District Attorney Matthew Moeser said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is hoping to collect those items on March 22.

Schmeiser and Circuit Judge Timothy Samuelson said they had not yet read the motion, which will be considered at a later date. Filed with the motion was a 10-page list of chemicals seized from Campbell’s apartment and garage. On the list was everything from household cleaners and paint to a variety of acids, insect killer, liquor and less common chemicals.

‘Railroaded’ by system

In the first draft of Campbell’s essay after his 2016 arrest, he laments that the arrest cost him his job at Sonic Foundry, where he had worked for more than three years, his source of income and attorney fees, which at that point had reached $14,000. He wrote that when he was in public he experienced “a minor panic attack” any time a stranger initiated a conversation with him, thinking that the stranger knew of his 2016 arrest. He admitted, though, that it was an “irrational fear” not supported by reality.

Among the positives of the arrest experience, he wrote cheekily, “I’m helping the Dane County DA meet/exceed its revenue targets for the DPU (Deferred Prosecution Unit).” Earlier in the essay, he had decried having to pay $60 per month for a year to take part in the program.

He also took a dig at the woman whose neck he choked during the September 2016 incident: “The alleged victim got to feel some sense of vindication, despite likely having no idea the real personal cost this entire matter has had on me.”

Rewriting that passage, Campbell said in the revised essay: “The alleged victim got to feel some sense of justice for my actions, and can feel safer knowing that she will not likely never see me again on the UW-Madison campus.”

In both versions, he wrote, “I have a greater capacity for empathy with those who are similarly railroaded through the criminal justice system.”

District Attorney Ismael Ozanne said Thursday that new criminal charges generally mean that a person in the Deferred Prosecution Program would be brought to court to face the charges that put him or her into the program, but he did not know where Campbell’s battery case was in that process.

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