Wisconsin ACLU investigating activist’s Dane County courtroom arrest

By: - May 17, 2022 5:36 am

Dane County Jail.

The Wisconsin ACLU is investigating the arrest of an activist outside of a Dane County courtroom earlier this month with the organization’s president saying it was “undoubtedly an unconstitutional violation.” 

Jessica Williams, an employee of the racial justice non-profit Freedom Inc., was arrested on May 6. Williams was attending a sentencing hearing for Kenyairra Gadson, a Madison woman convicted of shooting and killing a man in a parking garage in 2018. Gadson claimed the shooting was in self-defense. 

After Gadson was convicted in January, Williams stood up in the courtroom and shouted at Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne, “We’re coming for you. You better be ready.” 

Williams was removed and the courtroom was cleared after that incident but she was not arrested. Instead, she was arrested months later when she entered the courthouse to attend a rally against Gadson’s sentencing. Gadson’s conviction has drawn criticism from local activists who argue that Black women and LGBTQ people are criminalized and treated differently in the criminal justice system. Gadson was sentenced to 13 years in prison by Judge Chris Taylor. 

“The law doesn’t permit somebody to make an arrest under these circumstances,” the ACLU’s William Sulton said, standing outside the courthouse Friday as dozens gathered to protest the arrest. “We should not allow government officials to say, ‘Arrest this person, arrest that person because they said something I don’t like.’”

Williams’ arrest was for suspicion of disorderly conduct, “resisting or obstructing”and “Battery or threat to judge, prosecutor, or law enforcement officer.”. No charges have been filed against her, she was released last Tuesday and a spokesperson for Ozanne has said the DA’s office isn’t handling the case. 

The arrest has led activist groups to call for Ozanne’s resignation. 

“This is a shameful display of state-sanctioned repression by an elected official, and is a gross abuse of power,” Freedom Inc. posted on Facebook.


Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Henry Redman
Henry Redman

Henry Redman is a staff reporter for the Wisconsin Examiner who focuses on covering Wisconsin's towns and rural areas. He previously covered crime and courts at the Daily Jefferson County Union. A lifelong Midwesterner, he was born in Cleveland, Ohio and graduated from Loyola University Chicago with a degree in journalism in May 2019.