After learning the state Senate passed the collective bargaining portion of the budget repair bill without the 14 missing Democrats, the Capitol erupted Wednesday evening as protesters flooded the closed building against a court order.
The hearings where the Senate passed the bill lasted less than a half hour, prompting the building to officially close around 6:30 p.m. Protesters outside chanted in frustration, “Let us in.”
After about an hour and a half, protesters stormed the building’s entrances, forcing themselves past police blockades.
Protesters who remained in the building past the hearing’s conclusion ran the risk of being arrested for disorderly conduct because of a March 3 court order that declared people could not occupy the Capitol after hours.
Capitol police said they were in “crisis mode” Wednesday evening because the building had been “taken over” by protesters. About 1,000 people were inside the building and 6,000 joined them after rushing previously locked doors, according to a statement from the Department of Administration.
Police were concerned about protesters’ physical safety with overcrowding, especially on the Capitol’s second floor bridges, the statement said.
DOA spokesperson Tim Donovan said law enforcement officers attempted to prevent forced entry from happening but were unable to because of the large volume of people.
“We’re disappointed that people who have been very cooperative over the past three weeks were not cooperative tonight and entered the building against the court order,” Donovan said.
Madison resident John Severa held a State Street entrance door open for an hour and said people inside the building rushed to the entrance to push the doors open for protesters outside.
Police responded shortly after to try to barricade the door, but their attempts were unsuccessful. After several minutes, police retreated while protesters cheered.
“I know police don’t want to be violent,” Madison resident Josh Olson said. “But tonight [the police were violent], and it was upsetting and disturbing.”
Olson said the decision to open the doors had very little coordination. He also claimed he was punched in the shoulder by an officer aggressively trying to stop the rush of people.
“Once people started coming in there was nothing police could do,” Olson said. “This is our house.”
Donovan said protesters also entered the building by jumping through windows. He said he was unsure if windows were broken because of conflicting information from several credible sources.
Police decided against forcibly removing protesters and kept the building open past hours Wednesday night to focus all of their efforts on keeping everyone safe, Donovan said.
Madison Police Department Sergeant Dave McClurg, who was protesting while off duty, said he was concerned with the dangers of security procedures during the Senate’s hearing. State law requires the Capitol to remain open after its designated hours during any public meetings.
Protesters began arriving en masse outside the building’s only open entrance near King Street about a half hour before the 6 p.m. Senate hearing. The hearing was only publicly announced at 4:09 p.m.
Because police began airport-like security procedures outfitted with a standing metal detector, the crowd grew as protesters were forced to enter the building one-by-one. McClurg said he was concerned with the dangers to everyone involved because the building’s only entrance at the time was severely overcrowded.
“If someone gets hurt tonight because of the security set up, I would testify for them,” McClurg said.
He said at some point police could have removed the metal detector and asked to wand a few people independently for any weapons. He added officers should have asked their supervisors to alter the security measure out of safety concerns.
Mayor Dave Cieslewicz said the mayoral debate was canceled Wednesday night in light of the rally. He said he attended the rally because he wanted to make sure people remained peaceful.
“They’re angry and they should be, but let’s show our anger in a tasteful way,” Cieslewicz said.