MADISON, Wisconsin — Just as the legal repercussions of this summer’s Black Lives Matter riots in Wisconsin’s capital city begin to be felt, the Bishop of the Diocese of Madison plans to lead potentially thousands of Catholics in a Eucharistic Procession and Rosary rally for peace and unity.
On Thursday August 6, two Madison women were bound over for trial on charges they beat unconscious a state senator from Milwaukee who was trying to photograph a riot near the state Capitol building. Samantha R. Hamer, 26, a school social worker; and Kerida E. O’Reilly, 33, a physical therapist; were charged in Dane County Circuit Court with being parties to the crime of felony substantial battery with intent to do bodily harm, in the June 24 beating of Sen. Timothy Carpenter of Milwaukee.
After an 80-minute preliminary hearing, Dane County Circuit Court Judge Stephen E. Ehlke ruled there is probable cause to believe the women committed the felony offenses alleged by the state. He bound them over for arraignment and trial. Madison Police Department detective Linda Trevarthen testified that anonymous tipsters identified Hamer and O’Reilly as the women seen charging at the senator in a video recorded on Carpenter’s phone. The senator was then punched, fell to the ground and was kicked in the head, ribs, and legs, police said. He suffered a fractured nose that required surgery.
The June 23-24 riots were sparked by the arrest of a Black Lives Matter activist, who was accused of accosting a mother of four praying the Rosary, before going into a nearby tavern and terrorizing patrons with a bullhorn and baseball bat. During the wild night of violence that followed, crowds toppled two century-old statues on the Capitol grounds, tossed a firebomb near the 911 dispatch center in the City-County Building, and vandalized the Capitol building while attempting to force their way into the historic domed edifice.
Hamer and O’Reilly are the first two suspects bound over for trial of five charged so far with state and federal crimes related to the Madison riots. A number of other suspects have been charged with burglary and looting during riots in late May and June.
Meanwhile, Bishop Donald J. Hying plans to lead a Eucharistic Procession Aug. 15 up riot-damaged State Street to the Capitol for the “Unite Wisconsin” patriotic Rosary rally. Organizers hope to draw 3,000 participants in an effort to unite Catholics against mob violence and intrusive government regulations brought on by COVID-19. The event follows a similar Eucharistic Procession on June 15 that drew 300 participants to the Wisconsin Capitol. Hying said such public faith events are not about politics, but proclaiming the truths of Christ.
“We need certainly to be public in our expression of the faith and to be strong,” Hying said in an interview. “We can never be politicized or co-opted in terms of politics. But if we remain true to the teachings of Christ and to the value of what’s been revealed to us and the value of the human person, that may have political implications but it’s being true and faithful to the Gospel. Part of the question when we do things publicly like that is to make sure our own intentions are pure, that we’re out here to proclaim Christ and to love even those that may be opposed to us and to love our enemies.”
The procession and rally will take place at the heart of a city in turmoil. May and June riots initially sparked by the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis left much of Madison’s State Street shopping district boarded up and covered with Black Lives Matter murals and graffiti.
Madison’s beleaguered police force has contended with riots and a doubling of shots-fired incidents reported around the city. On August 4, more than 60 shots rang out at a public park during a memorial service for a young man killed in a targeted shooting in late July. Three people were injured. Just days before, the city had five shooting incidents in a 10-hour period. City leaders, including Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway, have expressed support for the BLM protests, while they discuss proposals to cut police funding and restrict what types of non-lethal force can be used on rioters.
The Catch-22 has angered the rank-and-file. Ninety-five percent of Madison Professional Police Officers Association members approved a vote of “no confidence” against Rhodes-Conway, who faces a possible recall election if her critics can garner enough signatures within a 60-day time frame.
Meanwhile, riot-related investigations continue. Agents from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) issued rewards of up to $10,000 in hopes of identifying five persons of interest in the firebombing of the City-County Building, which houses the Madison Police Department and the county’s juvenile jail. The ATF released surveillance photos and asked for the public’s help in identifying the five individuals. So far, no arrests have been made. Ashlee J.L. Sherrill, public information officer for the ATF’s St. Paul Field Division, said “we’ve received tips on all the persons of interest and are currently working to validate the tip information.”
A federal grand jury indicted Devonere A. Johnson, 28, for two alleged violations of federal extortion laws. Johnson was arrested June 23 after he harassed patrons at The Coopers Tavern on the Capitol Square. That occurred just minutes after Johnson allegedly accosted a 40-year-old mother of four who was praying the Rosary on the sidewalk with her children. She told Catholic World Report that Johnson came at her and the children while swinging a baseball bat like a pendulum. She said she did not report him to police for fear of retribution.
According to the federal criminal complaint, Johnson and an associate entered a downtown Madison bar on June 22, blasting music on a boom box. Johnson demanded money from the owner or the business’ windows would be smashed, the complaint said. He told the owner to send him cash using the Venmo smartphone app. The owner took Johnson’s Venmo account details, but did not send him money. Johnson came back to the establishment with two other men on June 23, this time armed with a bat and carrying a megaphone. Video shot by an employee shows Johnson speaking through the megaphone, saying, “I am disturbing the s**t out of this restaurant” and “I got a f*****g bat.”
Johnson and another man entered a second restaurant on June 22, the complaint said, playing loud, explicit music on the boom box. One of the owners asked him to leave, but he refused. On June 23, Johnson and two other men returned, this time demanding free food and beer, the complaint said. “You don’t want 600 people to come here and destroy your business and burn it down,” Johnson said, according to the complaint. “The cops are on our side. You notice that when you call them, nothing happens to us.”
Johnson faces up to 40 years in prison if convicted of the two federal extortion charges. He also faces a slew of state felony and misdemeanor charges related to his alleged behavior on June 22 and 23. He was charged in Dane County Circuit Court with two counts of threatening to injure or accuse someone of a crime, two counts of disorderly conduct, escape from a criminal arrest, resisting or obstructing police and criminal damage to property. Johnson remains in the Dane County Jail.
Gregg A. James Jr., 23; and William T. Shanley, 25; have also been charged in Dane County Circuit Court with making threats to injure or accuse of a crime for allegedly working with Johnson to demand money, food and beer in exchange for not destroying the two downtown restaurants.
The Rosary-praying mother who was targeted by Johnson said she plans to take part in the Eucharistic Procession on Aug. 15. “He may be a bully, and there may even be more bullies who hate faith and use people for their own ends, but I refuse to stop praying in public spaces,” she said. “I think that if we can all stand up to evil, praying fervently, we may be able to stave off the forces of darkness that threaten to swallow our beautiful country. I pray we can. We must push forward. Our Lady will protect us.”
(Editor’s note: This article was updated on August 7, 2020.)
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