Monday, January 9, 2006 Print This | Email This     

Trial set for activists accused of slashing Republicans' tires on Election Day

By Chris O'Connell, Court TV

( Court TV) — While much of the country will be focused this week on the highly partisan battles expected during the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito, five Milwaukee Democratic activists will be fighting their own battle: They are going to trial for allegedly slashing tires outside a Republican Party office during the 2004 presidential election.

The sons of a first-term congresswoman and Milwaukee's former acting mayor are among the five charged with slashing the tires of vans rented by Republicans to drive voters and monitors to the polls on Election Day.

Sowande Omokunde, son of Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Wis., and Michael Pratt, the son of former Milwaukee acting mayor Marvin Pratt, are among those charged with criminal damage to property, a felony that carries a maximum sentence of 3 1/2 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

The two-week trial is expected to begin Monday afternoon or Tuesday morning in Milwaukee, after jury selection.

The activists are accused of flattening the tires on 25 vehicles rented by the state Republican Party to get out the vote and deliver poll watchers on Nov. 2, 2004.

The GOP rented more than 100 vehicles that were parked in a lot adjacent to a Bush campaign office. The party planned to drive poll watchers to polling places by 7 a.m. and deliver any voters who didn't have a ride.

A criminal complaint said the defendants originally planned to put up Democratic yard signs, placards and bumper stickers at the Republican office in a scheme they called "Operation Elephant Takeover." But the plan was dropped when they learned a security guard was posted at the GOP office, the complaint said.

One witness told investigators the five defendants, dressed in "Mission Impossible"-type gear, black outfits and knit caps, left the Democratic Party headquarters at about 3 a.m. on Nov. 2, and returned about 20 minutes later, extremely excited and talking about how they had slashed the tires.

Rick Graber, chairman of the Republican Party of Wisconsin said the stunt threw a wrench in its get-out-the-vote effort. Moreover, he said, Wisconsin was one of the most highly contested states, where Kerry ultimately won by a little more than 10,000 votes.

"When you're looking at a margin of only 10,000 votes, every person counts," Graber said.

The Democratic Party of Wisconsin has denied any involvement in the "operation" and said that any participants were acting on their own behalf, not as party members.

"Neither the Democratic Party of Wisconsin nor the Kerry campaign had anything to do with this incident," a statement from the party read. "If proven guilty, those accused should be subject to appropriate legal sanctions. The Democratic Party of Wisconsin totally and without reservation condemns any illegal behavior, by any party, that undermines the democratic process."

While the complaint only charges the individuals, Graber said he had a hard time believing that the actual Democratic Party did not have anything to do with vandalism.

"Do I know precisely at what level of the Democratic Party leadership was involved? No," He said. "But these were Democratic operatives."

The trial will be shown live on the Web at Court TV Extra.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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