For District Attorneys, Threat Of Violence Comes With The Job


A memorial is being held today for a slain Texas district attorney and his wife. Their murder and the killing of an assistant DA in that same county in January spotlights a profession that Wisconsin DA’s already know is dangerous.

Richland County District Attorney Jennifer Harper has had a few threats during her 13 years as a prosecutor. But she says it goes with the territory.

“I operate in a dangerous world with dangerous individuals. My first threat was in person, and it was when I was a very young ADA. I had an individual tell me that he was going to chop me up into small pieces and float those pieces down the Pine River.”

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Harper has been advised to carry a gun. “For anyone listening out there, I do not carry a firearm.”

In 2000, members of the Imperial Gangsters firebombed Douglas County District Attorney Dan Blank’s house with his wife and child inside. No one was hurt but it was a clear effort to intimidate him. It happened while the gang’s leader was awaiting trial for murder: “As a form of coping and mental health management, I’ve chosen, even though I was a victim in the past because of my job, to not go around looking over my shoulders.”

Blank and Harper both say security should be stepped up in courthouses with more secure entrances, video monitoring, and metal detectors. But Blank doubts that will happen: “Just common sense tells us that we are a wide open facility, which is great for citizen convenience but it’s not so great from a security standpoint.”

In an email statement for this story, Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen says prosecutors and judges are just protecting the public. “The prosecutors I know are aware that they may be at risk, but believe in what they do and are not going to be intimidated by criminals who are angry with the system.”