Chief Helein speaks out on AR-15 incident

Appleton Police Chief Pete Helein said Wednesday that the detainment of two men carrying rifles downtown prompted a review of procedure within the department last week.Helein

Helein made the comments at City Hall during the common council meeting, but it was his first public comment to address the issue directly. He said any major incident such as this is followed with a “debrief” and review of policy.

“I strongly support the actions the officers took to evaluate and assess a potential threat,” Helein said. “There were 911 calls that indicated men downtown were carrying rifles and it caused a panic.”

Fox Cities residents Charles Branstrom and Ross Bauman were briefly detained after police drew their guns on the men three blocks from the farmers market Sept. 7. They were legally carrying the rifles, along with concealed pistols. Both men were released without tickets.

The response set of a firestorm of both criticism and support of police. Open-carry advocates argue that the men should not have been handcuffed, since they were not breaking any laws.

Helein said the department “will continue to remain objective and responsive to rights, while educating people about the potential impact of carrying a weapon in a public setting may have.”

“It’s important to respect everyone’s rights and we continue to engage in dialogue and decide as a community how we can strike that balance,” Helein said.

The incident has drawn comment from law enforcement around the state. This week, Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, an outspoken gun rights advocate, criticized the men, and called them “clowns” on 620 WTMJ radio.

Mayor Tim Hanna also spoke out about the incident at the meeting. He said the city remains limited in any new ordinances that could restrict open carrying.

“We’ll continue to look at any tools we may have, but for anyone that wants a change, they need to talk to their state representatives since that’s where the change needs to happen,” Hanna said.

— Nick Penzenstadler: 920-996-7226, or; on Twitter @npenzenstadler

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