MADISON, Wis. (AP) — More than 40 protesters arrested by Capitol Police during a crackdown on a daily sing-along conducted without permits have pleaded not guilty, and 33 have requested jury trials.
Police have issued 223 citations or recommended charges in the last two weeks against people participating in the noontime Solidarity Sing-along, the Wisconsin State Journal reported. Some people have received more than one citation, which are mostly for conducting a demonstration without a permit. Seven arrests were for disorderly conduct or obstructing or resisting arrest.
The protesters have gathered almost every day for the last two years to sing against Republican Gov. Scott Walker. Police began arresting them last month after a federal judge ruled that officers can require groups of more than 20 to get a permit to gather in the building.
The protesters refuse to apply for permits, saying they shouldn’t need the government’s permission to protest the government. They say the First Amendment protects their rights to free speech and assembly, and they also say that because they’re not an organized group no one can assume responsibility for any damages to the building, as a permit would require.
The most recent court cases came Friday when 32 people entered not-guilty pleas. They were scheduled for initial appearances, and 29 requested jury trials, said clerk of courts Carlo Esqueda.
Another 10 people pleaded not guilty before their hearings and four of them requested jury trials, according to court records.
The Madison-based First Amendment Protection Fund is helping protesters with court costs, including the $36 fee for requesting a jury trial. So far the fund has paid 19 of the fees, group treasurer Steve Gotcher said.
Several attorneys are representing those arrested at no cost or for reduced fees.
“In my opinion, none of this should be happening,” said Madison attorney William Turner, who is representing six people requesting jury trials. “We’re going to exercise our rights to the fullest extent of the law.”
The cases will be prosecuted by assistant attorneys general with the Wisconsin Department of Justice, said Steven Means, an assistant attorney general. A judge will determine whether people will be tried individually or as a group, he added.
“While new cases of any type add to our workload, we don’t anticipate any problem handling these cases, nor do we anticipate that these cases will interfere with our other responsibilities,” he said.
Information from: Wisconsin State Journal, http://www.madison.com/wsj