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Deputies respond to protest

A large turnout by protesters before the St. Croix County Republican Party Lincoln Day Dinner raised some anxiety and boiled over in some angry verbal exchanges but no arrests were made or citations issued.

"We had gotten info that there might be activity," said St. Croix County Sheriff John Shilts of the 5 p.m. event at Kilkarney Hills Golf Club in the town of Troy.

"As a matter of courtesy we made contact with the owner to let him know and see if he wanted help. The business preferred to have a presence from our department and they asked if we could prevent the protesters from coming on to their property so their guests could park in the parking lot."

Two St. Croix County deputies were assigned.

"Because there were a significant number of protesters, the two deputies asked for more help," said Shilts. However, because of Saturday afternoon's snowfall, all other available officers were dealing with traffic accidents.

"I was there," said Shilts, who was attending his first Lincoln Day Dinner since being elected last fall. "I came with my wife to attend the dinner and ended up working."

The sheriff, driving an unmarked car and wearing street clothes, drove through the gauntlet of protesters, a couple of which gave him the "bird."

"As I drove through they did hold their signs over my car so I could read them but they did not touch the car," continued Shilts.

"We definitely had an issue with crowd control," said Shilts. "There were safety concerns with the protesters closing in around the cars. It was finally resolved when some of the group actually doing the protesting stepped up to help."

Kilkarney Hills owner Pat O'Malley said Tuesday that quite a crowd had gathered along Radio Road as he drove from the clubhouse to his storage shed to retrieve his snowplow. At one point, vehicles were parked from the driveway of his maintenance buildings on Radio all the way to County M.

As he traveled between the club and his shed in a truck displaying the Kilkarney name, some protesters shouted at him, indicating he shouldn't be hosting the Republican event and threatening to boycott the golf course. O'Malley said he recognized some faces in the crowd as River Falls residents. He speculated that others were from Hudson and probably the Twin Cities.

"Suffice to say if we had not been there we would have had a bigger problem," said Shilts. The deputies and Shilts got the protesters to park on just one side of Radio Road so guests attending the dinner could get through.

"We underestimated the number of protesters that would show up," said Shilts. "I'm guessing there were 400-plus."

O'Malley said he understood many protesters came because they'd heard Gov. Scott Walker might be speaking but Walker had apparently cancelled his participation weeks ago. Senators Sheila Harsdorf and Dan Kapanke, however, were among area elected officials joining the 150 who attended the event.

He estimated the number of demonstrators at 300-350, but said they were largely peaceful and respectful.

"I know some employees had people pounding on their hoods as they arrived to work the event, scaring them," said O'Malley. "These were teenage girls that didn't know what was going on and (demonstrators) wouldn't let them up the driveway."

No citations were issued and there is one incident that remains under investigation.