The committee formed to recall Sen. Jim Holperin (D-Conover) says Merrill police could have done more to prevent someone from ripping up a petition to recall the Senator last Thursday outside of the Lincoln County Courthouse.
Sen. Holperin was one of 14 democrats to flee Wisconsin to avoid a vote on Governor Scott Walker's budget repair bill.
The recall committee met outside the courthouse and set up a table so that interested residents could sign the petition, but according to witnesses, anti-Walker protesters quickly joined the scene.
"Immediately there was about I don't know how many people were here, but we were bombarded by union protesters. They have every right to be here too, but if they would have just kept moving it could have been much less of a confrontation that we seemed to have," said Kim Simac, the recall committee's chairperson.
She says the anti-Walker protesters circled her group of volunteers, not allowing people through to sign the recall petition.
"That's when we did have a person come up and write profanity across and rip up our petitions that were on our table and that is against Wisconsin laws," Simac said.
A press release from the recall committee accused Merrill police of being in close proximity to the table and says they "did nothing to assist those collecting the petitions as they were being destroyed."
"I thought that they could have done more, personally," Simac said.
But Merrill Police Chief Ned Seubert says officers didn't even witness the destruction of the petitions.
"They indicated... that we had an officer standing in proximity to this table which isn't true at all," Chief Seubert said.
He says officers were in the area, but investigating other complaints before they were even made aware of the ripping of the petitions.
"We know they prevented or made it very difficult for people to obtain the signatures however I only had five officers as well and to try to break up this group would have been impossible for us," Chief Seubert said.
He added that there was no violence that any of his officers witnessed, just boisterous and perhaps intimidating people.
As for the female suspect accused of writing profanity on the petition while ripping it, is being pursued by police.
"It's property. It's someone's property so at the very least it's destruction of property. We are checking to see what violation of election laws might be involved here," he said.
Tuesday morning Simac and some members of the recall committee met with Chief Seubert about how to move forward, especially considering Simac is planning more petition signings in the near future.
Both Simac and Seubert said the meeting went well, and hopefully nothing will get out of hand in the future.
Chief Seubert says they will have officers on-hand, but they cannot prevent other anti-recall protesters from showing up, or rallying themselves. But if anyone gets violent, they will be arrested, he said.
"We're gonna hope to have more protections as we work for this recall and we will go out across the district and we're gonna stand strong and we have every right to do that," Simac said.
As for the ripped petitions, Simac says the committee will attempt to locate those who signed them and ask them to re-sign.
She didn't know how many signatures have been collected so far. The group needs 15,960 in total.
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