Weedstock Organizer Peppersprayed, Arrested
by Dj Slater, (01 Jul 2006) Baraboo Republic Wisconsin
MADISON - UW-Madison Police arrested Ben Masel, an activist and potential U.S. Senate candidate, around 11 p.m. Thursday at the Memorial Union Terrace while he collected signatures to place his name on the 2006 ballot.
Masel, who the police pepper-sprayed before arresting him, received citations for disorderly conduct, resisting a police officer and trespassing, and remaining after noticed to leave, all misdemeanors, said UW-Madison Police Lt. Bill Larson.
This is not the first time Masel has run into trouble with the authorities. His record of court appearances date back to 1982, however, some of those cases ended in his favor. One incident involved Masel winning a $95,000 settlement from Sauk County after police arrested him at during the 2000 Weedstock festival.
"I'll definitely be seeking charges," Masel said. "It's not a settled issue."
Around 10 p.m., Masel said, two Memorial Union managers approached him and said he couldn't solicit signatures on the property and asked him to leave. Masel said he "politely declined" and said he is allowed to collect signatures on public grounds. He said he carried a few clipboards and a large white sign throughout the night. The managers asked him to leave again a few minutes later and said they'd call police if he didn't.
Officers John McCaughtry and Michael Mansavage arrived around 11 p.m. They pepper sprayed Masel in the eyes before placing him under arrest. Masel claimed he never struggled with the officers.
"If they had said something along the lines of 'Mr. Masel, you're under arrest,' I would have put my hands behind my back and compiled," he said.
Mayor Dave Cieslewicz, who was at the terrace, said he didn't see Masel disturbing anyone.
"I didn't feel Ben was causing any disruptions," Cieslewicz said. "I certainly didn't feel he was disrupting my evening at all. I didn't see a reason to remove him from the terrace."
Roger Vogts, assistant facilities director for the Wisconsin Union, which includes the Memorial Union and Union South, said the administration has a policy that doesn't allow people to hand out free literature, collect signatures or various similar activities in specific areas of Memorial Union.
"We don't want people coming in, going table to table, bothering people," Vogts said. This policy also applies to other food service areas at the Memorial Union. People can collect signatures in the main lobby or in front of the building facing the street, Vogts said.
Jeff Scott Olson, Masel's attorney, said Masel is innocent of any violations.
"If there is any administrative rule that prevents him from doing what he was doing, it's probably unconstitutional," Olson said.
Masel's court date is July 24, at which time he will appeal the citations. For the time being, he and Olson will attempt to reach an understanding with the university that will allow him to collect signatures before his court date.
Masel said he has 1,300 signatures, 700 shy of the 2,000 requirement to place his name on the 2006 ballot. The deadline is July 11.
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