The state Supreme Court ruled a restraining order against former University of Wisconsin System student Jeff Decker was warranted.
Decker, who was a student at UW-Stevens Point, has protested for years about the UW System’s policy on segregated fees. A circuit court judge granted a restraining order against him, a decision that an appeals court overturned.
But on July 16, the Supreme Court ruled Decker’s behavior warranted a restraining order, as the court asserted institutions as well as people are protected from harassment — a point Decker disagreed with.
The court, however, sent the case back to the circuit court so that it can “refine the injunction and clarify its terms.”
Decker had argued the injunction against him was too broad, as it “prohibits … contact with all 40,000 university employees and, arguably, all 181,000 university students,” the court wrote, noting the UW System had agreed the injunction was “overbroad.”
Decker was charged with harassment following several cases of meeting disruptions and threats toward university employees and the chancellor, as well as a refusal to comply with disciplinary suspension, according to the ruling.
“Showing up at an open meeting is not harassment,” Decker said in an interview with The Badger Herald. “Filming a meeting is not disrupting it.”
The ruling states when a restraining order was filed against Decker in October 2011, Decker avoided the UW-Oskhosh police chief and tried to purchase a handgun.
In court, Decker presented receipts that showed he had been shopping for a handgun for weeks, saying it was “bad timing” that allowed for the usage of this information against him.
Due to concerns about potential violent behavior from Decker, the circuit court granted a harassment injunction and barred him from entering university property.
A state appeals court reversed the injunction, determining that Decker had legitimate reasons for his behavior. The court found protesting university student fees was an act protected by Decker’s right to “publicly demonstrate, protest and persuade others” under the Constitution.
The UW System petitioned for a review of the case, which the Supreme Court granted last January.
Decker argued that an institution cannot be harassed, using the dictionary definition of harassment as “subjected to mental agitation, worry, grief, anxiety, distress or fear,” according to case filings.
The high court held the UW System had a right to an injunction, as it needs to protect the student body.
“University officials have a responsibility to ensure the health and safety of students,” the case stated. “It cannot be disputed that threats to student safety are on the rise. No institution, including a university should be forced to rely on the criminal justice system when a more immediate remedy is available. A harassment injunction may not prevent a tragedy such as the atrocious shooting at Virginia Tech or Sandy Hook, but it is nevertheless an important and effective tool for university officials to maintain order and ensure student health and safety.”
Decker’s persistent aggressive behavior toward the university also lacked legitimate purpose, the Supreme Court ruled. The court found his actions were to “demonstrate an intent to harass,” which is not protected under his right to protest.