Citizen goes extra mile for justice, while government hides suspect
By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON, Wis. — Roxane Stillman is a 62-year-old kidney cancer survivor with a heavy sense of right and wrong.
With her righteous indignation driving her on, the rural Madison woman two weeks ago found herself chasing down an alleged vandal perhaps more than 30 years her junior at the Jefferson County Fair.
Stillman is the key witness in a political disorderly conduct case with broader government transparency implications.
She tells Wisconsin Reporter she was at the fair on the night of July 9, the opening day of the annual event. Stillman and her friend were enjoying some kettle corn on a bench across from the Jefferson County Republican Party booth after the fair had shut down for the night.
CHASING DOWN JUSTICE: Roxane Stillman, 62, chased down a woman half her age after Stillman said the woman destroyed political signs at the Jefferson County Fair. Stillman, of rural Madison, still is waiting for the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department to release the incident report from that night, two weeks ago. PHOTO: Wisconsin Reporter
Suddenly, she saw a man with a young woman who looked to be in her late 20s to early 30s walk up to the booth. At first Stillman thought the woman was squatting down. It looked like she was relieving herself. The guy, she said, looked shocked.
“She bent down and was smashing the signs up,” Stillman said. “She was grinding it up with her cowboy boot.”
Several sources, including law enforcement officials, have confirmed that the woman, only identified as a school teacher from Germantown, had destroyed about 10 Republican candidate signs at the GOP booth. She reportedly received a citation for disorderly conduct, but as of Tuesday there still was no record of the ticket in the Jefferson County court system.
Stillman called out to the woman, telling her to wait, that she was going to call the police. The woman started walking away — then she started running, Stillman said.
“I said, ‘Honey, I’m good for about five miles. If you want to run, that’s OK. I’ll stay with you,’” Stillman said. “When she realized she wasn’t going to outrun me she started walking fast all over the fairgrounds trying to ditch me. Everywhere we walked, I yelled out, “Someone get the police! This lady damaged property.”
Stillman claims that, at one point in the chase, the woman grabbed her arm, squeezed it hard and said, “You must like the Koch Brothers!”
“I said, ‘I don’t know who they are, honey. I don’t like Barack Obama. I voted for him the first time, wouldn’t do it again, but I wouldn’t damage someone’s property. It doesn’t matter who you like or dislike,’” Stillman said.
The pressure of the woman’s grip left bruises up and down her arm, Stillman said.
After several minutes, police arrived on the scene.
At first, Stillman said the woman — a “tall girl with darker hair, wearing cowboy boots, a cowboy hat and a short skirt,” she said — denied the allegations against her. After a while, the woman admitted breaking the signs, screaming that she hates Gov. Scott Walker, Stillman said.
Two weeks later, Stillman still doesn’t know the name of the accused or whether a disorderly conduct ticket has been issued as law enforcement officials claim.
She said she filled out an open records form at the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department Tuesday, but was told it would be two weeks before her request would be completed, and that she would have to pick up a copy of the records at the agency.
The disorderly conduct incident has raised bigger issues than the destruction of political property.
Wisconsin Reporter, too, is seeking the citation and incident report through an open records request, but was informed that the Sheriff’s Department will redact any identifying information — meaning it will not release the name of the suspect.
That policy, in effect for more than a year, apparently is driven by a 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals decision declaring that Palatine, Ill., police were wrong in placing a parking ticket on the windshield of a vehicle, that doing so violated the driver’s personal information.
Tom Kamenick, associate counsel at the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, or WILL, said Jefferson County’s strict interpretation of the 7th Circuit’s ruling is the reading of “overcautious municipal lawyers.”
“There has been no case where an open records request was filled and wound up making liable the people who filled it,” Kamenick said Monday, pointing to an open records case earlier this year in which a St. Croix County judge ruled in favor of the New Richmond News in an open records lawsuit against the city of New Richmond.
The city, like Jefferson County, contended basic information, including names, addresses and other identifiers in traffic and criminal cases had to be redacted from public records.
Kamenich said he had hoped after the New Richmond case government entities like Jefferson County would have figured out that they do not have to redact such information.
WILL is willing to help Jefferson County figure it out, however.
In an accompanying letter with Wisconsin Reporter’s open records request, the Milwaukee-based public interest law firm informs the Jefferson County officials the 7th Circuit’s ruling “does not permit law enforcement officials to redact identifying information from citations, incident reports, and the like in response to open records requests.”
“One case has already held a government entity liable for violating the open records law for making such redactions. The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty would be happy to bring the second such case,” the letter states.
Stillman said she wants to know what happened in the disorderly conduct case because she wants to see justice done in a world gone wrong. She said she is concerned that someone who seems to be carrying so much anger and partisan aggression would be teaching children.
“I think our world is so God awful now. If something doesn’t change, I don’t think going to exist anymore,” she said.