Now that the Wisconsin Supreme Court has halted an investigation into whether Gov. Scott Walker’s gubernatorial campaign acted illegally, the targets of that review are going public.
Political consultant Deborah Jordahl, who was investigated for allegedly illegally coordinating with conservative groups violating election laws, detailed on Thursday to conservative radio host Charlie Sykes the Oct. 3, 2013, search of her Middleton home which she said began with flood lights illuminating the house at 6 a.m. and a Dane County deputy ringing the front door’s doorbell.
“She said, ‘Everything’s OK; we have a warrant to search the house,’ ” Jordahl told Sykes, who added her son and daughter were still asleep upstairs.
“She proceeded to follow me upstairs as I went into my children’s room to wake them. I asked to be able to wake them alone but she followed me in there,” she said. “Both children at the time — 17 and 15 — were woken up out of a dead sleep and there’s an armed deputy standing next to their beds.”
Jordahl said the deputies told the family they could not speak to anyone but an attorney about the investigation as part of a gag order. She then said she was not allowed to call an attorney while the search was underway.
“I said I’d really like to call my attorney, and she told me to sit back down,” Jordahl said. “She actually came toward me, you know, kind of backed me down onto the couch. She didn’t touch me, and told me I was not allowed to call anybody.”
For more than two hours, she said, investigators seized Jordahl’s cellphone and her husband’s, at least five computers belonging to the family, “several” external hard drives, two iPod nano devices and an e-reader. Jordahl said investigators also took paper files from the home’s basement that were not marked clearly. She said investigators copied files from her computer and returned it in about three weeks but said she doesn’t feel comfortable using it again.
During the broadcast, Jordahl repeatedly took issue with the manner in which the search was conducted, saying it was unnecessary because there were other ways to obtain the files investigators were searching for.
“I have a home office — where I work is very clearly defined in my home. So it really wasn’t necessary to go through my bedroom, through my sock drawer,” she said. “I believe that the purpose was to harass and to intimidate us — it was to humiliate us in front of our neighbors.”
No longer under a gag order, Jordahl, who was not charged, also has spoken to the Wall Street Journal about the experience with R.J. Johnson, a colleague who also was under investigation. Former Walker aide Cindy Archer filed a lawsuit last month against Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm and his aides claiming her civil rights were violated by the search and seizure in her home.
But UW-Madison’s Donald Downs, a professor in political science and constitutional law, said Thursday that a home search in a John Doe investigation is justifiable if there’s reason to believe evidence investigators are looking for is contained in the home.
However, the tactics used during the search raise questions about potential abuse on the part of the prosecutors, he said.
“The devil is in the details here — they treated her like these guys are drug kings from cartels or something,” he said. “It’s the early-morning raid, it’s the alleged overbearing tactics, it’s really more the means than the ends.”
Dane County Sheriff David Mahoney said Thursday any search warrant executed by Dane County deputies “is reviewed by a district attorney or assistant district attorney to ensure that there’s probable cause for the warrant, and then it’s signed by a circuit court judge.”
“I don’t believe that there has been some conspiracy related to the John Doe matter,” he said. “Matter of fact — quite the opposite. All the search warrants were served based on probable cause.”
Criminal defense attorney Jeff Nichols said it’s hard to speculate on why police carried out a particular search warrant in the manner they did.
“Can police go overboard? Sure. Whether they did or not is hard to say,” he said. “Obviously police can say, ‘That’s how we do it,’ and obviously the person can say, ‘It’s a Gestapo tactic,’ so it’s a matter of perspective.”
Nichols also noted that searching a home at 6 a.m. may have been perceived by police as being more convenient than at midnight, or later in the morning when the search would have been carried out when no one was home.
Jordahl, special prosecutor Francis Schmitz and Chisholm did not return voicemail and email messages from the Wisconsin State Journal seeking comment.
Jordahl told Sykes she believed the manner of the search, and leaks of information about the case, were done to make public an investigation that is supposed to be by law secret and protective of those being reviewed.
She said her family still does not have back everything the police seized, causing her to be concerned about more information about her and her family being leaked. She said she won’t feel at peace until her family is returned every piece of evidence collected, assured any copies are destroyed and promised that any future leak of information will result in criminal charges.
Part of the Supreme Court ruling ordered all evidence to be returned and copies be destroyed, but Schmitz has asked the court to reconsider, which has delayed that order.
“I think this is like one of those bad horror movies, where Chucky is in the backseat at the end,” Jordahl said. “You think you killed him but he’s really not dead.”