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House in alleged ‘campaigning while black’ case saw repeated police activity

October 3, 2018

State Assembly candidate and Dane County Board member Shelia Stubbs says she was the victim of racial profiling in August when she was campaigning in a West Side Madison neighborhood and a resident called police to say her car and its occupants might be connected to a local “drug house.”

But records show police were called 21 other times to the house this year through Sept. 27, and the captain of the police district that used to include the area where the house is located, along with some neighbors, say the home was long suspected as a place where people were selling drugs.

The house at 481 Charles Lane was vacated within the last month or so. Police calls to the property before that were mostly to check the area, but also for violation of a court order and domestic disturbances.

The Aug. 7 call to police that police and the Dane County 911 Center identify as the one made on Stubbs was to “check property.” It did not result in a formal police report, but five other calls to the house between June 12, 2017, and Aug. 10, 2018, did.

West Police District Capt. Cory Nelson said the house had been on the district’s radar since the beginning of the year. As of Sept. 9, it became part of the newly formed Midtown Police District.

“We did have complaints that neighbors felt there was drug activity at that house,” Nelson said. “A house like that certainly stands out in a quiet neighborhood.”

Before the home’s occupants left, the district had assigned an officer to work with them to figure out was going on and help stop it, he said.

Jim Thoreson, who lives about a block away from the home and sits on the Midvale Heights Community Association board of directors, confirmed that neighbors were worried about partying and a lot of late-night activity at the house, and that police were aware of it, too.

“I know it was a house of interest,” he said.

“We did encourage residents to report suspicious activity there, as we always encourage residents to do, when they suspect a drug house in their neighborhood,” Nelson said.

Madison property records show the home was sold in April by Lisa Timbers for $125,000 to Jeff Olson of MIG Homes Inc. of Middleton. On Tuesday, a full dumpster was parked in the home’s driveway, and on Wednesday Olson said the home was being gutted and renovated, and would then be sold.

He said he had heard about some of the complaints about the previous owners, but “I suppose who cares what it was a while back?” -- especially now that it’s being “totally renovated.”

Olson said he allowed the sellers to remain in the home until about a month ago.

Told of the repeated police calls to the Charles Lane home, Stubbs said neither she nor her car were on Charles Lane that night, but she and her campaign declined multiple opportunities to say whether she was in the same neighborhood. The house at 481 Charles Lane is just north of the intersection of Charles Lane and Ames Street.

“I was not on Charles Lane at all,” she said. Stubbs, who is black, repeated that she still viewed the incident as a case of racial profiling.

And while she initially told The Capital Times that she was pleased with how she was treated by the Madison officer who responded to the call, she told the Wisconsin State Journal that “the police officer walked up to me and told me I’m a drug dealer.”

She declined to elaborate, but police spokesman Joel DeSpain said police chief Mike Koval spoke with Stubbs before the incident hit the media and that Stubbs “gave him the impression” that she didn’t have a problem with the way the officer behaved.

“She did not ascribe fault to the way in which our officer engaged with her and family members,” Koval said in a statement provided by DeSpain. “It was distressing to her (understandably so) that someone would have called the police at all in the first place.”

Stubbs’ allegation of racial profiling was first reported by The Capital Times and later picked up by several national media outlets.

An anonymous letter purportedly from the person who called the police on Stubbs and shared with some local news outlets, said the person did not call the police on Stubbs specifically, but on her vehicle.

That is born out by the 911 recording of the call, in which the resident -- whom police would not identify -- can be heard saying the “drug dealers up the street aren’t home now so there’s been a car parked around the corner for like half an hour with a bunch of people in it.” The caller doesn’t mention seeing anyone walking from house to house, as Stubbs was doing.

Stubbs won the four-way Democratic primary for the 77th Assembly District seat on Aug. 14. It covers Madison’s South, Southwest and West sides as well as the UW-Madison campus and Shorewood Hills. She has no Republican opposition in the Nov. 6 general election.

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