Jeremy Ryan, a frequent critic of Madison police practices and former state Capitol protester known as “Segway Jeremy” because he was known for zipping around the building on a scooter, has a singular record of high-minded protest activities mixed with other, less savory behaviors.
At the Capitol, Ryan organized singalongs and led civil disobedience actions including some designed to test rules limiting the display of signs and banners, as part of the protests in 2011 against Gov. Scott Walker’s legislation curtailing collective bargaining rights for public workers.
While acknowledging that the point of the actions — like all civil disobedience — was to be arrested, Ryan noted he and other Capitol protesters engaged in passive resistance only, never doing or prompting anything violent.
“Just because of that (behavior), I got a constant black mark from the police,” Ryan said, though he also has been accused over the years of a handful of offenses not linked to protests.
Apart from current charges of low-level marijuana dealing, those include a disorderly conduct charge for repeatedly taunting and disrupting journalists working in the Capitol Press Room in 2012 and a charge of receiving stolen property for allegedly keeping the jacket of a Capitol police officer in his apartment, where he reportedly wore it at parties as a joke.
He was put in a first offenders probation program for the disorderly conduct charge in a 2013 plea agreement that also dismissed the stolen property charge and three other misdemeanor cases.
Ryan and five other protesters also filed a lawsuit against the state over their 2011 arrests, initially winning nearly $300,000 in 2015 for damages and legal expenses after claiming a state administrative rule requiring permits to hold signs on state property was unconstitutional. The judgment was overturned on appeal this month before any money was paid out, with no plans by the plaintiffs to take the case any further, according to their lawyer.
They feel they already won a small victory in the fight when the state changed the contested code in 2013 to grant exemptions to the permit rule for smaller signs and graphics on clothing.
“It’s (because of) the lawsuit and the type of protest activities I did,” Ryan said about his theory for his continuing problems with police. “I was the face of that.”
Since the days of the Capitol strife, Ryan’s focus has shifted toward controversies involving the Madison Police Department — though he has been less active, at least publicly, due to worsening health problems, he said.
Ryan said he took part in Black Lives Matter protests over the fatal shooting of black teen Tony Robinson in March 2015 by white Officer Matt Kenny. He also has issued statements and personally bankrolled some efforts — for example, paying for the provocative and profane yard signs and stickers used by some to protest Robinson’s shooting, which was ruled justifiable self-defense.
In January 2015 Ryan started a car-window tinting business known as Tint Tek with his roommate, Zachary Czerkas. The partnership’s operating agreement was recovered by police during a drug investigation of Czerkas, now 25, by UW-Madison police for the manufacture and delivery of marijuana.
Czerkas, already on probation for a 2010 federal drug conviction, spent most of 2015 in prison on a probation revocation associated with that investigation and other violations. He moved back into Ryan’s house upon his release and currently still lives there, Ryan said.