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Madison protest organizer federally charged with extortion

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MADISON (WKOW) -- A Madison protest organizer has been charged in federal court with extortion following his arrest which sparked demonstrations downtown.

Prosecutors filed a criminal complaint against Devonere Johnson, 28, in federal court, according to a press release from the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Wisconsin.

Johnson also goes by the name Yeshua Musa.

The U.S. Attorney's Office claimed Johnson used "force, violence, and fear" to get free food, drinks and money from businesses.

The complaint alleges that on Monday, Johnson threatened that the windows of a business would be destroyed unless a payment was made to his Venmo account. A second count against Johnson claims he insinuated another business would be shut down and destroyed unless he and others were given free food and drinks.

"Those who attempt to take advantage of recent events to extort local businesses under the guise of community activism will be vigorously prosecuted," said U.S. Attorney Scott Blader. "All citizens have a right to feel safe within their communities."

Nearly two weeks ago, Johnson helped organize a peaceful protest at the intersection of East Washington Avenue and Stoughton Road in Madison. Acting Police Chief Vic Wahl stopped by and had a conversation with protesters, which Johnson called at the time a positive first step.

"It's good to see them take that step forward amend that relationship between the African American community," he told 27 News on June 13.

This past Tuesday, Johnson had a much different interaction with police as he was carried out of Cooper's Tavern after entering with a megaphone and a baseball bat -- an arrest that sparked protests, vandalism and condemnation of the arresting officers' actions.

The new federal court documents do not name the businesses prosecutors say Johnson demanded money and food from before threatening violence.

"Local police had been receiving a variety of complaints prior to his ultimate arrest," Blader said. "The citizens of the city and the state need to know that they are protected in their businesses, their homes, and the community. And that starts with upholding and enforcing the law."

According to court documents, Johnson questioned businesses' support of the Black community, and in one case threatened that hundreds of protesters would burn down the business if his demands weren't met.

Johnson faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison on each of the two counts, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office. The charges follow an investigation by the FBI and Madison Police Department.

"Extortion is not activism, it is a crime and it will not be tolerated," Blader said.

Bader says federal officials are looking at other, similar instances in Madison, potentially involving more than just Johnson.

Many people on social media were outraged Friday night, with some contrasting Johnson's federal charges with Brendan O'Neil -- a white man accused of injuring a woman in a hit-and-run, who is free on a $350 bond.

Andrew Merica

Reporter/Producer, 27 News

JT Cestkowski

Social Media Content Producer/Desk Editor

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