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Local man charged for disturbance during Walker recall petition drive

A suspect who allegedly used a pen to jab at - rather than sign -- Gov. Scott Walker recall petitions last month before walking away and calling himself "George Washington" has been charged for the incident by Pierce County District Attorney John O'Boyle.

In the Dec. 21 criminal complaint, Dennis L. Torkelson, 53, River Falls was charged with attempt to falsify information and criminal damage to property.

Both are misdemeanors punishable by a maximum of a $10,000 fine and nine months in jail.

Torkelson is scheduled to answer for these charges at 10 a.m. Monday, Jan. 23, in Pierce County Circuit Court in Ellsworth.

O'Boyle said that Torkelson's actions didn't rise to the level of a felony since the damaged petitions were later taped up and apparently still usable.

He said if the petitions with signatures had been destroyed or if Torkelson had attacked a recall volunteer, that could have resulted in felony charges.

O'Boyle said the attempt to falsify information charge falls under one of the many aspects of state election fraud law called, "fraudulently defacing."

The complaint dates back to just after 5 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 23, at a recall Scott Walker petition booth in River Falls.

Two volunteers said a man came up, looked at the petition forms, grabbed a pen, paused, and jabbed at the petitions with signatures, ripping them.

One volunteer took cell-phone pictures of the suspect, his car and license plate.

Police were called. When an officer arrived the suspect had driven off.

The volunteers explained what happened, showed the ripped petitions and passed along the cell-phone images.

Once Torkelson was identified, he was called but police say those calls went unanswered.

Six days later, on Nov. 29, police investigator John Wilson went to Torkelson's home.

In the complaint, Wilson reports that Torkelson said he was satisfied with the current governor and didn't understand why people wanted him removed.

After shopping at EconoFoods, Torkelson said he went to the Walker recall booth on Main Street to talk politics with volunteers posted there.

He admitted to picking up a petition form and pen, but blamed his actions on the blowing wind. He said as he made scribbly marks the wind blew the paper.

It was unclear how the wind may have affected Torkelson's scribbling.

Both recall volunteers said that when Torkelson was there, the air was still and petition forms were attached to a clipboard with four different binders. They said this made it impossible for the petitions to blow around even if there had been a breeze.

Torkelson did tell Wilson that he had no intention of signing the recall petition. He wanted to make a statement against the recall drive.

When asked why he gave the name George Washington, Torkelson said he didn't want the petition volunteers to know who he was.

At the end the police interview, Torkelson apologized for what he had done and said he wouldn't do such a thing again.

The actual petition that Torkelson damaged were not for Walker but for Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch.

The recall of Kleefisch is on a parallel track as the one for Walker. Both politicians were elected on the same ticket. Both must be recalled separately.

State Democratic officials say the recall of Kleefisch, a former Milwaukee TV news reporter, is not far behind the more than 500,000 signatures now gathered to recall Walker.

Under Walker, Kleefisch serves as the state's "Jobs Ambassador."

Recall disturbances

The Torkelson charges reflect the first of two such incidents in River Falls since the statewide recall drive started in mid-November.

On Sunday, Dec. 18, a recall table with volunteers in the 600 block of North Main Street in front of apartments managed by the River Falls Housing Authority was allegedly attacked.

Kaarin Thompson, 32, of River Falls, was later cited for disorderly conduct. She allegedly overturned a table with petition signatures and spit at the volunteers before driving off.

When questioned by a police officer, Thompson said she was a Ron Paul for-president supporter and mad the Housing Authority didn't let her put up signs for Paul outside her rental home.

Thompson lives at 423 Kennedy St. in a house managed by the Housing Authority.

Thompson was given a $177 municipal fine because of her actions.

Since none of the recall petitions were destroyed, River Falls Police Chief Roger Leque said Thompson's actions didn't meet criteria that would justify a felony charge.