Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Tire-Slashing Trial: National Campaigners Admit Lying to Police

By Dennis A. Shook

Two key prosecution witnesses testifying about the tire-slashing incident at Republican Party headquarters on Election Day 2004 said yesterday they heard the five accused Milwaukeeans brag of the deed.

But defense attorneys also were able to get Levar Stoney, of Virginia, and Leshaunda Joy Williams, of New York, to admit they lied to Milwaukee Police Department interrogators shortly after the Nov. 2, 2004 incident in order to safely flee the city. Stoney and Williams both were in Milwaukee to help hype Dem turnout in the final weeks of the Kerry-Edwards presidential bid.

Both Stoney and Williams told the FBI in subsequent interviews that they heard most of the five men brag about their role in the slashing of tires on nearly 100 vehicles rented by the GOP.

Those charged are Sowande A. Omokunde, son of U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Wis., Michael Pratt, son of former Milwaukee Mayor Marvin Pratt, Justin Howell, Lewis Caldwell, and Lavelle Mohammad. All are charged with criminal damage to property. That felony carries a maximum sentence of three and one half years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Stoney testified yesterday that those charged returned to the Democratic campaign headquarters in the early morning of Election Day, bragging that they had committed the act. Stoney said he overheard a conversation in which Michael Pratt said he was able to puncture several of the tires. Stoney said he heard similar statements from three others in the group, but not from Howell.

Like Alicia Smith, of Virginia, who testified Friday, Stoney and Williams admitted they lied to Milwaukee Police interrogators so they could flee the state.

"I was fearful" to provide details, Williams testified, saying she believed the incident could ruin her political career. She currently works as an assistant to the speaker of the New York City Council. "I really just wanted to tell (Milwaukee police) only as much as I could in order to be on the next flight to New York," she said. Williams admitted to lying to police during the first and a second, nearly five-hour interrogation.

Stoney also admitted he lied to Milwaukee detectives. But when approached in Virginia by the FBI he said he deemed it his "civic duty" to admit he heard the men talk about the vandalism once they returned to party headquarters.

"There has been a pattern of lies here," said Attorney Robin Shellow, representing Omokunde, as she questioned Williams. Shellow characterized Williams as a campaigner sent to Milwaukee in the last key campaign weeks to "rally the troops" and discover where Republican Party voter suppression efforts might be taking place.

"The most important thing to you when you walked into the Milwaukee Police Department was just to find a way out of here, right?" Shellow asked.

"Yes," Williams answered.

Her cross examination is due to continue today.

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