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Capitol worker charged in balloon spat (UPDATE)

A red balloon sits on a net installed on the fourth floor at the state Capitol in Madison on Friday. Police arrested a state worker who allegedly popped a protester's balloon at the Capitol and pushed the woman into a door. Protesters have been bringing balloons into the building and releasing them to the top of the rotunda, requiring state workers to retrieve them. (Staff photo by Kevin Harnack)

By TODD RICHMOND
Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Prosecutors have charged a state Capitol worker with disorderly conduct with a dangerous weapon for using a knife to pop a protester’s balloon and then slamming her into a bathroom door.

Ron Blair, the state Department of Administration’s assistant facilities director, could face up to nine months in jail and $1,000 in fines if convicted of the misdemeanor count. Blair, 56, stood mute during his initial court appearance Thursday. Dane County Court Commissioner Ann Sayles entered a not guilty plea on his behalf and approved a signature bond with the condition he not use knives on the job.

He left the courtroom without speaking to reporters. His attorney, Colleen J. Locke, declined to comment. Online court schedules show Blair’s attorneys and prosecutors have scheduled a settlement conference for Sept. 9.

The Department of Administration placed Blair on paid leave the day after the alleged incident and launched an internal investigation. An agency spokeswoman confirmed Thursday he remains on leave and the investigation continues.

Protests over Gov. Scott Walker’s collective bargaining law have been going on in the Capitol for months. Dozens of demonstrators still line the Capitol’s rotunda every lunch hour, holding a sing-along and toting balloons.

Many of the balloons float to the top of the Capitol’s towering dome, forcing state workers to climb up and remove them. Last week the DOA experimented with placing a net over the rotunda to catch them.

Officials ultimately decided the net was too ugly and removed it after just one day.

According to a criminal complaint filed Wednesday, protester Leslie Peterson brought a balloon into the Capitol on July 25 for the sing-along. She told police she was standing in front of the state Supreme Court hearing room when Blair came up behind her and stabbed the balloon with a silver knife.

He told her he was a member of the Capitol Police and was tired of retrieving balloons. He then turned and walked down some stairs, the complaint said. Peterson followed. At the bottom of the stairs, Blair grabbed her arm and shoved her into a restroom door, she said.

They both stumbled into the restroom. Thinking Blair planned to stab her, she began screaming for help. Blair then left the building, witnesses told police.

The altercation left blood splattered on the floor and stairs outside the hearing room. DOA officials say Blair told them he cut himself before he stabbed the balloon.

Police caught up with Blair at a Madison clinic where he was receiving treatment for his cut. According to the complaint, he acknowledged he popped the balloon with a knife in his multi-tool device.

He said he then realized his hand was bleeding. He wrapped it with his handkerchief and started down the stairs when Peterson charged after him, screaming. He said he placed his hand on her to “back her away” and they both walked backward through a restroom door.

He told detectives he “just snapped.”

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