Wisconsin Man Who Triggered Protest In Madison Charged With Extortion

Jun 27, 2020

Federal prosecutors on Friday charged a Black man whose arrest triggered a violent protest in Wisconsin's capital city with extorting local businesses.

Police arrested 28-year-old Devonere Johnson in Madison on Tuesday after he walked into Cooper's Tavern near the state Capitol building with a megaphone and a bat. The arrest sparked a protest later that night that saw demonstrators tear down two statues outside the Capitol building and assault state Sen. Tim Carpenter on the Capitol lawn.

Johnson faces up to 40 years in prison if convicted on two counts of extortion. Online court records did not list the case or an attorney for Johnson as of late Friday afternoon. U.S. Attorney Scott Blader said in a statement that Johnson’s initial appearance hasn’t been set.

According to court documents, Johnson and an unnamed man had been trying to extort business owners around the Capitol for beer, food and money for two days before Johnson was arrested.

FBI Agent Beth Boxwell wrote in an affidavit that the owner of Cooper's Tavern came up from the bar's basement on Monday afternoon to find Johnson and another man unidentified in the affidavit sitting at a table and playing music from a portable stereo.

The owner told him that he supports the Black Lives Matter movement to which Johnson replied, according to court documents, “What have you done locally?” He said he'd start breaking windows if he didn't get money and accused the owner and his employees of being members of the Ku Klux Klan. The owner told police he was afraid protesters would target his business because he didn't give Johnson what he wanted.

Johnson allegedly returned twice to the tavern on Tuesday, at one point joined by two other men. He shouted allegations of racism through a megaphone and swung a bat, according to the affidavit. One of the men had a bat with “Black Lives Matter” written on it.

“Just give us some free food and beer and we can end this now,” Johnson said, according to the affidavit. “You don't want 600 people to come here and destroy your business and burn it down. The cops are on our side. You notice that when you call them, nothing happens to us.”

Demonstrators have protested regularly in Madison since George Floyd, a handcuffed Black man, died in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25. Most were peaceful before Tuesday night's protest. Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and liberal Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway have taken criticism from Republican legislators for not doing enough to control the crowds.

Evers activated the National Guard on Wednesday but the protest that night was peaceful.