September 28, 2022 | By William Osmulski
Policy Issues
Crime & Safety Culture

Few Held Accountable For Madison's 2020 Riots

Out of the thousands of people who participated in the riots in Madison – looting, assaulting, vandalizing, terrorizing – only one was sent to state prison, five were sent to federal prison, and 18 are still awaiting the outcome of their cases.

The State Street riots were supposedly over “justice,” and there was surprisingly little justice for the thousands of rioters who tore apart the city of Madison in 2020.

The city faced two major waves of violence that year. After the death of George Floyd in Minnesota in late May, riots broke out across the country. They started in Madison on May 30th and died down after June 2nd. In those couple of days, the entire downtown business district on State Street was vandalized and looted, police officers were attacked, bystanders beaten, and a squad car was torched.

The second round of violence broke out a couple weeks later when one of the mob’s leaders was arrested for shaking down local businesses for protection money. That’s when rioters tore down state monuments, firebombed city hall, and beat Sen. Tim Carpenter.

For all the thousands of people who took part in this wanton destruction, less than a hundred faced any charges. Only one was sent to state prison. Six were sent to federal prison.

The MacIver Institute identified 49 individuals who were charged with a total of 85 felonies in Dane County. Half of those 49 individuals were already felons. About a quarter of the charges are still pending two years later, a quarter were dismissed, 17 received deferred prosecution, and 19 pled guilty or no contest.

Only 14 of those 49 individuals have faced any real punishment so far. Three years of probation was the most popular sentence for these 14 individuals. The only one to go to prison was Javonte Woods. His criminal record is four-pages long on CCAP. During the riots, Woods was caught looting two stores on state street.

There’s little rhyme or reason to the sentencing. Woods was not the only person arrested for looting who had a criminal record. He was one of 30 people charged with felony burglary after the riots, and 12 of them were felons. Woods, despite his long rap sheet, had never been charged with a felony before. Most of the felons charged with burglary still have open cases, but four of them were sentenced only to probation or given a fine.

Many of those caught looting, were not caught with enough stolen merchandise to charge them with a felony. It’s only a misdemeanor to be caught with less than $2,500 of stolen goods. Jeremy Bronas is a good example of how that played out during the riots. He was caught with eight North Face baseball caps with the tags still attached in his backpack. As the police were arresting him, a loaded Glock fell out of his pocket, he had pot on him, he was resisting arrest, and he was out on bail at the time for a different crime. Even though he had a concealed carry permit for the gun, being armed while committing a crime should have spelled serious trouble. In the end, he wound up with a mere 12 months of probation.

Crimes against law enforcement were generally ignored. One person threw a flaming gas canister at police, but that charge was dismissed. Longtime protester, Jeremy Ryan (a.k.a. “Segway Boy”), was arrested for making terrorist threats against the sheriff, but those charges were also dismissed. One individual swerved his car towards police officers making an arrest, but he was acquitted by a jury of his Dane County peers.

Countless others who blocked police and interfered with their attempts to restore order and stop criminals never faced any consequences at all. That included the large group of people who blocked police officers trying to get to their squad car as it was set on fire and their weapons were stolen.

Perhaps most disturbing was how the justice system handled cases of battery. Even when there was video evidence of people being brutally attacked and beaten, little ever came from it. Most battery charges were filed as misdemeanors and dismissed.

Michael Campbell attacked a TV cameraman during a live shot. He was only sentenced to 18 months of probation in May 2021. By August 2021, he had disappeared, and mail from Dane County was being returned as undeliverable. Campbell is hanging out somewhere in Barron County these days. He was picked up for domestic abuse in June 2022 and given a fine. Either that didn’t violate his probation or the justice system simply doesn’t care.

The video of Sen. Tim Carpenter pleading for his life as two women brutally beat him was one of the most horrifying images from the riots. Despite the women being easily identified in the video, one had her charges dismissed and the other was acquitted by a jury of her Dane County peers.

Javonte Woods is the only looter serving time in state prison over the 2020 Madison riots.

Another unnerving scene occurred on State Street when two of the protesters tried to stop another protester from looting a store. They were attacked by the mob with 2x4s and crowbars. “One male suffered 12 stitches to his face and had his phone stolen. The second male victim suffered multiple broken bones,” according to the incident report. No arrests were ever made. According to Madison Police, the case was closed without any arrests.

The Feds were slightly more reliable in meting out justice in the wake of the devastation, but only slightly. They arrested three people for arson and two felons with firearms. All were sentenced to federal prison. Marquon Clark, who firebombed the City-County Building, received the longest sentence: 7 years.

The Feds also arrested Devonere Johnson. He was the one whose arrest set off the second wave of violence. At that point, he had been leading a mob in the downtown area for weeks terrorizing residents and businesses. He threatened one restaurant owner to send him money through Venmo or he would break their windows. He threatened to have his mob burn down another restaurant unless it gave them free food. The police couldn’t ignore him any longer when he pushed his way into a restaurant on the Capitol Square with a baseball bat and megaphone directly threatening the manager. The feds only gave him two years of probation for extortion.

Johnson wasn’t completely off the hook yet. He was charged with three felonies and four misdemeanors over the incidents in Dane County Court. All the felonies were dismissed. For the misdemeanors, the judge gave him time served.

To summarize, out of the thousands of people who participated in the riots in Madison – looting, assaulting, vandalizing, terrorizing – only one was sent to state prison, five were sent to federal prison, and 18 are still awaiting the outcome of their cases. Anything short of arson or being a felon with a firearm warranted little more than a “slap on the wrist.”

Apparently, in Madison Wisconsin, “no justice, no peace” isn’t just a slogan. It’s official policy.

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