It’s been over a month since Hatched Baby was vandalized outside the La Crosse Police Station.
The artwork was donated to the city in 2018 by German artist Wolfgang Auer and it’s been valued at $23,000. Auer, a few weeks ago, told the city the 9-foot statue of a blue baby’s head coming out of an egg was not repairable.
There is still no word from police on a suspect and the department has yet to release any video of the vandalism.
That may be because there is no video — or any of use.
“Yeah, there’s definitely a camera there,” La Crosse Mayor Mitch Reynolds told WIZM. “There was not working video at that time for whatever reason.
“I don’t know if there’s other video. Obviously there’s numerous cameras in that area. To my knowledge I think, — I really don’t know — but I think that they may have just been reviewing video for that, but I really don’t know.”
On the weekend of Sept. 11-12, Hatched Baby’s head was torn from the egg and then the face was ripped off. Pictures of the face turned up on a popular social media site in the area, before being taken down. Those two pictures showed the face in what appeared to be someone’s living room and laundry room. The next day, the face ended up in a guy’s front yard on King Street, where police went and recovered it.
The Monday after the sculpture was found vandalized, police didn’t say there wasn’t video. Responding to an open records request, police said, “No video/photos are being released at this time as it is an active investigation.”
“That is one of the most misused exemptions I’ve found in the record law,” Kamenick said of police refusing to release the Hatched Baby vandalism video. “I get this constantly, ‘Oh, it’s an ongoing investigation.’
“There is no blanket exemption for ongoing investigations with one small caveat — that if there is an internal investigation of an employee, that’s exempt until it’s finished. But, for crime investigations, no, there’s no exemption for that.”
Reynolds added that this isn’t police hiding anything. La Crosse Police have released video in the past of almost the same exact incident, he noted.
“It’s kind of like when (King) Gambrinus got the arm broken, and police released video,” Reynolds said of the statue outside City Brewery being vandalized in 2015. “And when we’re looking for suspects, that’s one of the key ways that we do that, is to reach out to the public to say, ‘Hey, do you recognize these individuals? We are looking for these suspects.’
“The police do that constantly. It would certainly not be something that we would not do because it’s this sculpture. So that’s not a real thing.”
While public perception of Hatched Baby may lean toward the negative, it was still vandalized — laws were broken. It was also the police’s unofficial mascot, though there was at least one call to have it deputized.
“It makes zero sense that we would not release the video of the vandalization of this piece of art, knowing that when we did so, we would have a much better chance of catching those who did the damage,” Reynolds said.
Kamenick did add that police could withhold video from the public for certain reasons, calling it “the balancing test.”
“It’s kind of weighing competing interests, and there are some circumstances where if releasing records would interfere with investigation, they can withhold them,” he explained. “So, you know, it would tip off a suspect that doesn’t know they’re looking for them yet, or it would reveal some secret crime investigation techniques that they don’t want potential criminal defendants to know about. Things like that, they can withhold.
“They’re supposed to be going through that on a document-by-document, record-by-record basis and determining whether or not releasing that would actually interfere with the investigation.”
Relaying to Kamenick during the show that this vandalism happened in public, he didn’t see a reason for it not to be released. Kamenick is also involved in an open records lawsuit against La Crosse Police on behalf of Peter Cameron of the Badger Project.