Feds accuse arrested activist of extorting two Madison businesses

The criminal complaint did not mention the incident at Coopers Tavern
Published: Jun. 26, 2020 at 4:18 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - The man whose arrest Tuesday helped spark the protests that led to two landmark statues being knocked down and a state senator being assaulted is now facing federal charges for activities that allegedly occurred a day earlier.

The U.S. Department of Justice has charged Devonere Johnson with extortion after authorities say he threatened two Madison businesses unless they sent him money and his associates were provided with free food and beverages.

Scott C. Blader, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Wisconsin, alleged on Friday that Johnson, 28, threatened two business in Madison, according to a complaint Friday.

It appears that the two counts filed against Johnson in federal court Friday are not related to an incident involving Johnson the next day, on June 23.

It was during that incident that Madison police alleged that Johnson entered Coopers Tavern on State Street with a bullhorn and a baseball bat and yelled to customers, “I am [expletive] disturbing the [expletive] out of this restaurant and I got a [expletive] bat,” police said.

Madison police officers soon arrived and had to carry Johnson to a squad car. But Johnson soon escaped the car and was tackled by officers and detained.

In an update Friday night, Madison police identified two other men who allegedly partnered with Johnson. Police say Gregg A. James Jr., 23, was tentatively charged with threats to injure, while William T. Shanley, 25, was tentatively charged with party to a crime of threats to injure.

Devonere Johnson
Devonere Johnson(Dane County Sheriff's Office)

Incident at first Madison business

The criminal complaint state, that Johnson and others sought to extort Madison businesses by exploiting owners’ fear of looting, vandalism and rioting.

The two business owners that were allegedly threatened will not be named were not named in the complaint.

According to the complaint, the first business is described as a bar and restaurant that buys food, beverages and supplies made outside Wisconsin.

The owner of the business told the FBI that on June 22, Johnson and another man were inside the business blasting music from a boom box. The complaint states Johnson said to the owner, “Give me money or we’ll break windows” and then added “Venmo me money.”

The owner said that he supports the Black Lives Matter movement and that he had donated money to the movement.

The owner then received Johnson’s Venmo information. That’s when Johnson walked to the bar and said “You are all KKK.” The second man with Johnson added that the owner will get a call from a number with a Chicago area code.

The owner told investigators that the next time he saw Johnson was the next day, June 23. Johnson walked into the business with a bat and a megaphone and started yelling and calling people racists. The owner says that’s when Johnson demanded money from him, according to the complaint.

The owner called the police, and later told investigators that he was terrified of Johnson and concerned people may damage his business.

At another point, Johnson said “I am disturbing the (expletive) out of this restaurant” and that “I got a (expletive) bat.”

The complaint states police officers soon arrived and detained Johnson.

Incident at 2nd Madison business

The second business is also located in downtown Madison. The owner told investigators that Johnson and another man entered the business on June 22 with a boom box with music playing, the complaint states.

The owner said that Johnson was being disruptive to staff and patrons, put his feet up on the bar and said “I can do whatever I want, we got [Business 3] shut down and we’ll do the same to you,” according to the complaint.

The owner eventually called the police and officers escorted Johnson and the another man outside.

The complaint states that Johnson returned the next day with the megaphone and the baseball bat. He and two other men who accompanied him told the owners they wanted free food and beer “for their troubles.”

Johnson then threatened to bring 600 people to the business and burn the business down. “We can end this now and you won’t be marked like [Business 3]” Johnson allegedly told the owners.

The owner then paid for burgers, chips and beer for Johnson and the two others, and they eventually left., according to the complaint.

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