Minnesota Passed Police Reform Package. Will Wisconsin?
Randy Abendroth was terminated from his job Monday after harassing the artists creating these murals on East Wilson Street. (Photo © Andy Manis)

Local executive terminated Monday, a day later.

An employee of EMS Industrial in Madison was fired Monday, less than a day after reportedly harassing the daughter of a prominent Madison family while she was creating a city-commissioned Black Lives Matter-themed mural in downtown Madison, according to the company’s president. 

“It is a terrible thing these young adults had to deal with,” Kevin Femal told UpNorthNews Monday afternoon. “What I want to express is that the employee, Randy, is no longer with us.” 

Randy Abendroth was the vice president of engineering, confirmed Femal. According to his LinkedIn profile he had been with the company for nearly 30 years. 

Posted by Kaleem Caire on Monday, July 20, 2020

The daughter of Kaleem Caire, the founder and CEO of One City School, and Lisa Peyton-Caire, the founder and CEO of the Foundation for Black Women’s Wellness and the Black Women’s Wellness Center in Madison, was told by Abendroth that her murals were “racist,” prompting a woman jogging nearby who witnessed the incident to contact the Madison police, Peyton-Caire said. 

The incident occurred on the 400 block of East Wilson Street in downtown Madison, where Amira Caire was painting several murals along with siblings and friends. 

In a video posted Sunday on social media, Peyton-Caire said the family knew the man’s name was Randy but did not indicate how they knew this, had a video of a portion of the interaction that one of the young adults with Amira took on their cell phone, and the license plate number of the man’s SUV. An incident report from the Madison Police Department confirms the incident occurred as Peyton-Caire describes. 

Part of the reason she said she was making the video was for friends and family to help identify the man. 

“I am emotional right now. I am very upset,” said Peyton-Caire during the Facebook video. “I am literally downtown watching over my adult children.”

Posted by Lisa Peyton Caire on Sunday, July 19, 2020

By Monday morning, the Caire family said in a series of Facebook posts that the man who had harassed their daughter and her friends, all of whom are people of color, was Abendroth. His former employer, EMS Industrial of Madison, is a manufacturing company that is located on the east side of Madison near Monona. It has been in operation since 1935. 

The family did not tag him on the posts and Abendroth has not commented publicly concerning the incident. When UpNorthNews attempted to reach him at work for a comment, a woman who said she was not the company spokesperson answered the phone. 

She said Abendroth would not be in the office Monday. She read a prepared statement she was told to read to the media that said “we stand against all forms of racism and don’t condone any actions of hate.”

When asked to confirm that Abendroth was the company’s vice president, she asked for contact information and said the company’s president would be returning calls to the media concerning the incident. 

According to the police report, the woman who called the police said “the man was not making threats, but he was harassing artists.” The report describes the man as a “60-year-old man, who lives in the neighborhood.”

“He felt he needed to stop his car in the middle of the street to tell my children that what they were doing was racist and that what they were painting made him feel racist,” Peyton-Caire said on the video. “He told them that they didn’t belong in his neighborhood, that they shouldn’t be here, and by morning it was all going to be torn down.” 

She added her daughter lives near where the incident occurred and was born and raised in Madison.

The man then drove a few blocks down the street, parked his SUV, and returned on foot. 

According to the report, a 22-year-old called the police again, this time after the man returned and wanted to know where they lived, while telling them he paid $3,000 a month to live in a nearby condo. The man had a pen and pad of paper with him, and was asking for their names and addresses “so he could give them to police,” according to the report.

He also threatened to cover up their work, said the report. The Madison police officer arrived at the scene when the man returned on foot after parking his vehicle.

“The officer told the artists it appears communications – coming from them, and from the man – are protected by the First Amendment. The officer wished the artists well,” according to the report.

“We know if the shoe was on the other foot and this gentleman felt threatened by my children in some way that that police interaction could have looked very differently,” Peyton-Caire said on the video. She believed “the police allowed him to leave with the sense he had done absolutely nothing wrong.”

Since the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis Police officers May 25, ongoing protests across the country have brought renewed focus to the disproportionate number of police shootings involving Black men and women. Additionally, Wisconsin has the highest incarceration rate of Black men in the country. 

Peyton-Caire said several people including the jogger, a male tenant of a nearby apartment complex, and another couple who lived nearby heard the initial exchange and surrounded her children and their friends. Peyton-Caire said the tenant who lived nearby told them if the 60-year-old man returned they should ring his doorbell. 

When the man returned, Peyton-Caire said her daughter and friends did just that. Peyton-Caire repeatedly expressed gratitude on the video that strangers took the time to protect her children. 

She said the witnesses that were with her children were upset because they felt that it was not handled properly. 

“Madison, Wisconsin, if you ever think you are different from the South, if you ever think you don’t have the problems of Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and even my home state of Virginia, you are asleep,” said Peyton-Caire near the end of the video.