What a day in Mauston! Yesterday the seven of us (Don Timmerman, Roberta Thurstin, and Joyce Ellwanger of Milwaukee, Libby Pappalardo of Crystal Lake, IL, and Mary Beth Schlagheck, Bonnie Block, and myself from the Madison area) arrested at Camp Williams/Volk Field last April were in Mauston for a plea hearing. We were joined by a good number of cohorts in support.
We were arrested by the Juneau County Sheriff just inside the gates of the base on April 24 after peacefully walking onto the base to hand deliver a letter to base commander, Col. Gary Ebben. We have been vigiling at the base monthly since December 2011, and sending letters to Col. Ebben stating our urgent concern about the training they are doing in operating Shadow drones. Our letters have been ignored and so on April 24 we decided to try to hand deliver a letter. We were arrested, handcuffed, and transported to Mauston, the county seat of Juneau County. There we were processed and charged with criminal disorderly conduct and released.
Yesterday we had a plea hearing scheduled, and so we decided to take the day in Mauston to publicize what is happening a few miles down the road at Camp Williams/Volk Field.
Joyce, Mary Beth, Bonnie, and I had the privilege of talking to a group of students at the high school in the morning. We shared our stories about why we engage in acts of civil resistance, and specifically why we are concerned about the training for drone warfare occurring at the base. Though there were a lot of kids who had connections to people who worked at the base, they listened attentively to what we had to say.
We went directly from the high school to the courthouse annex for our plea hearing. There we met up with our co-defendants, along with activists who came to support us, including many from the Madison Raging Grannies.
When the first one of us was called before Judge Roemer, the Juneau County District Attorney, Clifford Burdon, told the judge that he wanted to reduce the charge from criminal disorderly conduct to an ordinance violation that we had resisted or obstructed a police officer. This was an interesting twist because six weeks earlier we each had a phone conference with Mr. Burdon offering to reduce the charge to an ordinance violation if we agreed to plead guilty and pay a fine. We all refused at the time because we wanted to plead not guilty and go to trial.
After a few minutes to confer with each other, the seven of decided that we would accept this lesser charge, plead not guilty, and file for a jury trial, paying $36 divided between the seven of us.
We went back into the courtroom and told Judge Roemer what we wanted to do. He had each of us come up individually and dismissed the charge of disorderly conduct and told us we would be reissued a citation for the ordinance violation. We would then have to return to court for a plea hearing for that charge.
There are more steps and more appearances in the process in Juneau County than I have ever experienced in any other court. When I appeared before the judge I asked him if we could do the plea hearing over the phone because of travel considerations. After conferring with a courtroom officer Judge Roemer said we could enter a not guilty plea via fax.
Now we will wait to get our citations with the ordinance violation mailed to us, and honestly I would not be surprised if they just dropped the whole thing at this point.
After court we vigiled and handed out leaflets near the courthouse and the Raging Grannies sang several songs. Lars brought the model drone which always attracts a lot of attention. However, there is almost no foot traffic in downtown Mauston so we moved to a strip mall with a large grocery store and a K-Mart. There we were able to hand out more leaflets.
In the evening we had a panel and discussion at the public library. Fifteen people attended. Mary Beth, Bonnie, and I each gave a presentation and then there was a very good discussion. Most of the people there were from the Juneau County peace group and supportive.
So, it was a very good and a very long day in Mauston and I got back home in Madison at 11:00 pm. We were able to raise the issue to a lot of people of what is happening right down the road and it felt like a productive day.