Posted on November 8, 2004

Tire-Slashing Questions Await Democrats’s Sons

Cary Spivak and Dan Bice, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, November 4, 2004

Police are planning to question the adult children of two prominent Democrats as early as today in the wide-ranging probe into who, early on election day, slashed the tires of 20 vans and cars rented by the Republican Party.

The investigation has already led to the Tuesday arrest of Opel E. Simmons III, a veteran party activist from Virginia in town to work on John Kerry’s presidential campaign. Simmons, 33, was released Thursday afternoon without being charged.

Sources told us that police, who are being assisted by the FBI, plan to speak to Michael Pratt, son of former Acting Mayor Marvin Pratt, and Supreme Solar Allah, the son of state Sen. Gwen Moore, who won a seat in the U.S. Congress on Tuesday. Allah’s given name is Sowande Omokunde, and he lives in Moore’s north side home, according to her campaign finance reports.

Officials declined to say what role the two sons might have played in the incident or what they might know about it. But numerous police sources made it clear that detectives from the police intelligence division want to quiz them soon.

“They will be talked to,” one insider said Thursday evening. “Most likely probably tomorrow.” Even though authorities have not talked to his son, sources said, Marvin Pratt has contacted the Police Department to inquire about the case.

The senior Pratt – the chairman of Kerry’s Milwaukee campaign – also popped up on the scene Tuesday night when police arrived to arrest Simmons on a vandalism charge. Also witnessing the arrest, sources said, was someone videotaping the bust.

Neither Marvin nor Michael Pratt returned a call or responded to a message left at Marvin Pratt’s house. Moore and her son did not respond to repeated calls.

Because of the sensitive nature of the investigation and the possible involvement of the children of two of the area’s best-known politicians, sources said, Police Chief Nannette Hegerty called Mayor Tom Barrett on Wednesday to tell him police would be speaking to Pratt and Allah. Barrett defeated Pratt in April.

A spokesman for the mayor’s office confirmed Thursday that “the chief has briefed the mayor on the situation.” It’s standard for the police chief to keep the mayor in the loop when investigating a politically sensitive case.

Milwaukee police are looking to talk with many more people than just the two sons of the prominent pols.

“They’d like to talk to at least five people,” said one source familiar with the investigation.

“Oh, it’s more than that,” said another source. “The list is about 10 names.”

On Tuesday morning, the tires of 20 cars and vans rented by Republican Party officials to carry voters to the polls were sliced. The discovery was made at 6:30 a.m.

The rental cars were parked near a GOP office in the 7100 block of W. Capitol Drive. Police originally said a guard saw a man running from the Republican offices around 6:45 a.m.

Records show Simmons was booked into the police holding facility at 10:35 p.m. Tuesday on an allegation of less than $2,500 worth of property damage. He was released Thursday afternoon, at the direction of the district attorney’s office, without being charged.

Sources said his arrest was directly tied to the tire-slashing incident. According to those sources, Simmons is cooperating with investigators.

Simmons runs a consulting business for non-profit and private businesses in Richmond, Va., and was previously a community outreach director for the Richmond Symphony.

For the past 14 years, he’s also been active in Democratic politics, working as a community organizer on two previous presidential campaigns. In September, he was named the “base voter director” for the Democratic Party of Virginia.

Soon afterward, Simmons was dispatched to Wisconsin to oversee a corps of 250 volunteers canvassing Milwaukee’s north side for Kerry’s campaign, according to a story last week in the Hartford Courant.

“His army has knocked on 94,000 doors on Milwaukee’s predominantly black north side and will finish knocking on all 125,000 by Friday,” the Courant story said. “Then they’ll spend the weekend going back to selected homes.”

Milwaukee police were led to Simmons because a campaign car linked to the incident had been assigned to him, according to sources. Simmons could not be reached for comment.

Milwaukee police are leading the investigation, and the DA’s office will decide whether to level charges. Depending on the total amount of damages, the perpetrators could face felonies.

The U.S. attorney’s office is also keeping an eye on the matter. Federal prosecutors could get directly involved later because the slashing involved a political campaign.

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