A first-person account: 71-year-old Madison woman circulates petition on square, gets brutal arrest by Capitol Police Officer Syphard


What follows is an account of the brutal arrest of 71-year-old Ann Fleischi by Capitol Police Officer Michael J. Syphard last Saturday. This account originally appeared on Ms. Fleischi’s blog,SerbianSpruce.Wordpress.com. It appears at bluecheddar.net with her permission.

You’ve probably seen me standing on the lip of sidewalk on the Capitol Square at State Street. I am the short old lady, wearing a straw hat with the words Citizen Law written on a broad paper band taped to the hat band. I am wearing a black knit shirt with white pieces of paper taped to the front and to the back of the shirt. My body says “No Hotel Subsidy” front and back. I look ridiculous.

This is my third Saturday Farmers’ Market on the Square. It’s June 14, 2014, 10:00 a.m. I am collecting signatures for a city law that we hope to get on the ballot in the fall. I announce to the people streaming by me, “Stop the latest hotel scam. Same developer, different hotel. What do you want to use public funds for, a school or a hotel for a hotel chain?”

The proposed law, written by citizens, puts a cap on public subsidies for private projects of ten million dollars. Ten million and over of public funds will require the proposal be put on the ballot for Madison residents to vote up or down. That will stop these scams we think.

Someone who didn’t like my spiel walked up to me and told me to get off the sidewalk. He was wearing a greenish golf shirt.

“What?” I asked. “I am exercising my constitutional rights, petitioning.”

“No.” he said. “You have to have a permit from the Capitol Police.”

“I am not on State Capitol grounds; I am on the public terrace area of the sidewalk. Thank you for your advice but no thanks.”

Three signatures later, about 10:30, a black uniformed Capitol Policeman tells me to leave. I say no, repeating what I told the golf shirt. He says to give him my identification. Laying down the two clipboards I dig out my drivers license.

He calls for backup and officer Michael Syphard walks up to me. He’s at least 250 pounds and has, count ‘em, at least eight different tools attached to his belt. He says, “Move across the street.”

I repeat my message to the golf shirt. He puts handcuffs on me, very tightly behind my back. He grabs my left arm and walks me up the steps to the State Capitol. His litany begins. He’s tired of people like me wasting his time. He says he bets I came to the Capitol Square to get arrested. I tell him no and I repeat what I told the golf shirt. He tells me to shut up. I am under arrest and shut up.

I complain that the left handcuff is very tight, very painful. He tells me I am making that up and to shut up. He is very, very agitated. Very, very angry. I mention that I am a lawyer and that what he is doing is not legal.

He explodes about how I am breaking the law and he is arresting me and to shut up. He hurries me into the State Capitol and we are going down a dark, narrow metal stairwell and I ask him to slow down because he is hurting my left wrist and I can’t see with the sun glasses and the old lady trifocals. He says he doesn’t care and he’d stop my fall before I hit the concrete wall ahead of me. I stumble over the last step and he’s propelling me faster and faster through a labyrinth of hallways. I tell him this is painful and I’m glad I am also a journalist because I have a good memory for details like his brutal behavior and, by the way, what is his name. He says he will provide me with that information. I twist my body to see his badge. We stop before a small square room that has an American flag behind glass in a case that illuminates when the lights are turned on.

He directs me to a chair and tells me to sit down. I ask that the handcuffs be removed because they hurt. He says he doesn’t care and pushes me down into a chair, at which point I scream with pain and straighten my body. He shoves me back down and I scream and then comment that I think there will be bleeding from that.

He says I am lying and he leaves, shutting the door. Another officer opens the door and stands in the hallway, watching me. I get up to relieve the pressure from the handcuffs and notice that there is blood on my chair. I walk toward the officer and he tells me to sit down and I point out the blood that is now on the floor and the chair.

He looks at my wrists behind me and asks his microphone radio coiled around his neck for Band-aids. A uniformed woman named Ann Johnson arrives with gauze and Band-aids. She asks the hallway officer to remove my left cuff and, looking at the wound, I see my skin has been peeled back from my fingers near my knuckles. I ask Ann what is that white material I can see in the wound, tendons? She asks if I want an ambulance, this is standard procedure for an injury, she says.

Ah, I say, that would cost me quite a bit, wouldn’t it? She uses her radio mic to ask for tape and a roll of gauze to make it tight and stop the bleeding. She asks me if I am on blood thinner because I am bleeding so much.

No, I say, I am old, when you manhandle old people they bleed profusely, like I am bleeding.

Officer Syphard comes into the room with a roll of gauze along with another officer, Steven B. Mael. Syphard says I threw my body to the floor and injured myself. I tell him, looking at Mael, that he, Syphard is making that up. I say that from the beginning Syphard has been angry and brutal toward me, and now, I say, he is proving himself to be dishonest. Syphard is every citizen’s nightmare.

Syphard says he is un-arresting me. I say, sure, now you see the lawsuit, don’t you? You don’t want any record, do you?

After Ann has wrapped my hand, I walk up to Syphard and say looking up from my almost-five-foot level. “You are the most brutal man I have ever dealt with.” Mael laughs and says you haven’t seen much, have you.

In hindsight, writing this, I realize I missed the state takeover by Governor Walker. I was in Montana earning that journalism degree. I missed the transformation of Wisconsin into a state where fascist police now muscle us around. I now completely understand Madison’s hatred of Walker.

Afterword: It turns out Capitol policeman Syphard was walking an arrested Veteran down the State Capitol marble stairs in handcuffs when the vet fell and was injured. It turns out there are videos of Syphard decking a journalist photographer from behind. Both incidents occurred at the Singalongs in Madison. Those were noon songfests of labor songs protesting Walker’s cancellation of public employee union rights. Here is an url to a facebook page showing Syphard’s behavior: http://wcmcoop.com/2013/08/05/capitol-cop-throws-videographer-to-the-ground/ Syphard is in the deferred prosecution program in Dane County for bad behavior so he has an established official behavior pattern.

Officer Mael escorted me from the building and I made a point of saying that Syphard should not be a policeman with his evident anger and brutality. Inexplicably, Mael replied “Old people kill people.” I was sure I misunderstood him. I tried again to explain temperaments and he repeated that phrase. It appears the Capitol Police look at us as the equivalent of mass murderers.

More on this story:
71-year-old Madison activist says Capitol Police officer injured her during arrest Saturday
Steve Elbow
Capital Times


8 thoughts on “A first-person account: 71-year-old Madison woman circulates petition on square, gets brutal arrest by Capitol Police Officer Syphard

  1. Thanks for the comments. Based on the personal accounts shared on social media in the last couple of years, it seems the capitol cops are taking their authoritarian attitude out of the rotunda and out to the square – specifically on Saturday mornings and specifically taking aim at people who circulate political petitions. That may be an erroneous or subjective assessment, but that’s my take on it at the moment.
    I also agree that these stories fit into a national story of increasing police aggression.

  2. The Capitol Police are rotten from the head down. The current leadership has obviously selected cops with a propensity for violence and short fuses in an effort to intimidate the public. The department is an absolute disgrace and the next Governor needs to clean house, if the courts don’t do it first.

  3. Understanding first amendment rights should be a 101 course in police jr. college. Arresting or threatening to arrest people (i.e. intimidating) for petitioning, protesting, filming, street preaching, refusing to answer questions (taking the fifth,) is unacceptable. From the ever increasing number of cases documented on social media, we must assume first amendment violations are on the rise or have always been happening and are being brought to light due to blogs and cellphone cameras. Courts have ruled on this and a one page memo instructing police “do not engage citizens involved in these activities on public property or public right of way” should have cleared up the problem. Unfortunately until courts come down hard on individual officers, management and policy makers who continue these violations, we are unlikely to see change.

    Thank you for drawing attention to the issue. It seems our only current recourse is documenting and calling attention to the violations so we can shame policy makers and public servants enough to change their actions. I disagree that this is a left right problem. We have cases of petitioners being arrested and unarrested (i.e. harassed and intimidated) by police for speaking on liberal, progressive, libertarian and conservative issues all over the country. We need to draw attention to all violations not just violations of speech with which we agree.

    • “We need to draw attention to all violations not just violations of speech with which we agree.”
      I’m in full agreement.
      In truth, I do not have proof positive that only left winger petitioners are the ones facing harassment by capitol cops at the square.

      Then there is the unique issue of Officer Syphard (the officer who manhandled Ann Fleischi per her account). He has a history of aggression and overbearing communications with a set of citizens in just the last 3 years and he has a domestic abuse incident on his record. It wouldn’t take too much work for me to locate 50 people who would go on the record saying Syphard isn’t fit for a police force. Why is this guy free to keep on acting like this? What can be done? I’m not sure what the answers are, but I can say he’s gone too far with too many people. They are not going to let it be brushed under the rug anymore.

  4. bc, thanks, appreciate you covering this.

    Not going to wait for the oligarch’s high priced legal teams to defend Ms. Fleischi’s First Amendment rights.

    “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

    OT, hmmm, founders didn’t mention anything about money in the First Amendment.

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