On Tuesday, January 15th of this year, Wisconsin State Capitol Police were notified of a threat made on facebook by a young man who claimed he would be coming to the Capitol building with Molotov cocktails.
The Capitol was already staffed with extra officers and state troopers that day because the Governor was scheduled to give his annual state of the state address that evening. Police responded to the threat by distributing a photo of the suspect and, they claim, posting officers at all the Capitol entrances.
There is an excellent, meticulously-documented write-up and video here by blogger whorleydervish of what happened next, but the long and short of it is that the young man did show up at the Capitol with a backpack full of what he claimed were Molotov cocktails.
Not long before he arrived, Capitol Police had handcuffed another young man, taken him to the basement-level Capitol Police station for questioning, determined he was not the suspect who had posted on facebook, and released him.
Eventually police identified the correct suspect and arrested him, but not until after he had spent a considerable amount of time in the rotunda amongst a group of school children on a tour, and a group of peaceful demonstrators who were there singing.
According to the Wisconsin State Journal:
(Department of Administration spokesperson Stephanie) Marquis said that... Capitol Police officers immediately identified Smith when he entered the Capitol.Later accounts from local media indicate the suspect was arrested in the rotunda, not upon entering the Capitol, and the video link above confirms that. No explanation was given for the delay between the time the suspect was identified upon entering the building and his arrest in the rotunda.
The man who was incorrectly identified has posted a petition on Change.org questioning why Capitol Police identified him as a possible suspect. Here are photos of the two men:
Here is a portion of the text from Mr. Bowden's petition:
On January 15, 2013, I, Colin Bowden, was detained in the basement of the WI State Capitol, without being read any rights nor having any explanation why I was there, in handcuffs because I looked like a suspect. The person later suspected of a threat is a young black male, as am I. However, most observers have remarked that we do not look alike. Because I was held in detention for a short time and not beaten nor shot, most attorneys have told me there is no case, and that it's just the way the system works. I disagree. I don't think dragging people down into a basement a la "24" is acceptable protocol for those paid to protect our democratic society.Mr. Bowden is a student and a candidate for alder on Madison's Common Council. His story was not reported by most local media except for a short mention at the end of the article in the Wisconsin State Journal:
Without protections for all members of society, we've seen the Capitol police arrest and/or cite people who look alike merely because of their skin color, merely because they are political adversaries, or merely because they were in the Capitol and some protest was happening. This precedent will mean no one is safe in what is supposed to be "The People's House". We must fight this on a broader scale, showing that we care about our rights and the rights of our kin.
Marquis said another black man was stopped for questioning prior to Smith's arrest because he "had all the characteristics of Mr. Smith and was carrying a bag."What do you think?
Colin Bowden, 25, a student at Madison Area Technical College's Downtown campus, said he was the man apprehended. He said he was walking through the Capitol on his way to class when he was handcuffed and taken for questioning. Bowden, who is black, said he didn't think he fit the description.