January 17, 2014

Begging his pardon: Scott Walker gets earful on Pizer case

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and members of his staff have repeatedly argued that not granting pardons to convicted criminals, even a decorated war veteran whose case has made a media splash, is the right thing to do.

It doesn’t seem to be working.

Eric Pizer hopes to get a pardon so he can become a cop. Dee J. Hall/Wisconsin State Journal

Through Jan. 1 of this year, Walker received at least 19 written communications from citizens regarding the effort of Cpl. Eric Pizer to obtain a pardon so he can pursue his goal of becoming a police officer, according to records obtained by the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism.

All of these communications, mostly emails, urged the governor to grant Pizer a pardon, with some going on to more broadly question his blanket ban.

“Please reconsider your position regarding pardons, in general, and Mr. Pizer’s in particular,” wrote David Sorensen of Fitchburg, who described himself as “a strong Scott Walker supporter, military vet and business owner.”

“I beg Gov. Walker to take his responsibilities seriously and consider that people need a second chance,” wrote Deb Woodruff in an email that did not identify where she is from.

“This is not the way a governor of this fine state should treat a soldier who served,” wrote James Bisbee of Monona.

As the Center has reported, Pizer, 32, of Madison, served two tours in Kuwait and Iraq. In September 2004, two days after he returned from duty, he intervened in an altercation between his friend and another man. Pizer, who had no prior criminal record, punched the man once, breaking his nose. He was charged with substantial battery, a felony.

The district attorney who brought the charge has refused to reduce it so Pizer could be eligible for police work. Walker, who since taking office has mothballed the state’s Pardon Advisory Board and granted no pardons, has said he will not make an exception.

“Gov. Walker supports the court system and does not want to undermine the actions of a judge or jury,” spokeswoman Julie Lund has said.

But the people who have written Walker in this issue are not persuaded.

“I was brought up to believe that the Republican Party was the party of compassion,” wrote Thomas Pappas Jr. “Eric Pizer has served our country with honor and dignity, (and) should be given a second chance to continue contributing to Wisconsin and America.”

“I’ve never emailed or contacted you before but I wish you would seriously consider pardoning Eric Pizer,” wrote Shirley Culp. “Please meditate on this. Thanks, praying for you every day.”

Some correspondents said they understood and supported Walker’s general stance against pardons but urged that he make an exception in Pizer’s case. Meanwhile, Norman Sannes of Madison couched his support for a pardon in terms of political expediency.

“You can bet that the liberals will use this case at election time,” Sannes wrote. “They’ll trot out a bunch of vets, and the media will eat it up.”

The contacts with the governor’s office were released to the Center in response to an open records request filed on Dec. 29. The case involving Pizer has continued to get attention and the governor has likely received additional communications.

In fact, the Center was sent an email on Jan. 12 in response to its column on the Pizer case. The authors, Steve and Leyla Gaeth, said they were also sending the letter to Gov. Walker.

The Gaeths argued against a pardon for Pizer.

“We feel the state of Wisconsin is better off not having him as a police officer because he has shown through his actions that he cannot control his impulses and temper,” they wrote. “We feel a pardon is not warranted.”

The nonprofit Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism (www.WisconsinWatch.org) collaborates with Wisconsin Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Television, other news media and the UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

All works created, published, posted or disseminated by the Center do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of UW-Madison or any of its affiliates.

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