On March 1, in the parking lot under the Wisconsin Department of Justice's Risser building across the street from the capitol in Madison, Wisconsin, a peculiar encounter ensued.
Citizen journalist Ann Murphy parked in the lot and brought out her video camera and started to record as she saw several men in suits acting like police officers or security guards.
But the men in suits flat-out refused to identify themselves.
"This is a private parking ramp, guys. You can't be down here," one man tells Murphy.
She argues with him that there is public access and she has a right to be there.
"Do you have some ID on you?" the man asks.
"I don't need to have an ID to prove that I parked here," Murphy responds.
The man says people pay to park there, and asks whether she paid.
After a brief interchange, the man says, threateningly: "I'll just call the business manager. If you paid to park here, that's good. If you're lying to me, that's obstructing justice, just so you know."
"How is that obstructing justice? I don't even know who you are," Murphy retorts.
"Lying to a cop, guys," the man responds.
"I don't even know that you're a cop. Who are you? Show me some proof that you're a police officer. You have no proof that you're a police officer right now. All that I know is you're wearing a scary eagle pin."
"Oh, am I?"
"I don't know who you are," Murphy bravely continues. "Who are you? Why don't you identify yourself, sir? Why don't you identify yourself? Yeah, usually police officers are not afraid to identify themselves. But apparently this one is, if he's even a police officer. He could just be making that up."
Murphy then asks a few other men in suits, "Are you guys police officers? Would you be willing to identify yourselves? No? No? I don't think you're police officers. Clearly not acting like police officers."
About six minutes into the video, Murphy asks one of the men who has been friendlier than the others: "I'm just really curious.... What is your status? Are you a police officer?"
"I'm a police officer.... I'm with the State of Wisconsin as far as I can tell you right now, Ok?"
"This is really unclear to me because usually people who are police officers can identify themselves," Murphy says.
"Correct," the man responds.
"Why can't you?"
"I cannot explain that information at this time," says the man, who shows Murphy his Wisconsin State Police button on his lapel.
He adds, "Given the heightened sensitivity to security, anyone can be deemed a threat," and he tells Murphy, "You're going to be asked to leave."
And so she backs off.
I contacted the Wisconsin State Police and the Walker Administration several times over three working days, but they refused to respond to my repeated requests for answers to the following questions:
1. Who were these people?
2. Doesn't the State Police have a policy of providing identification to citizens as a matter of course, and especially when asked to do so?
3. Are there any private security guards working for the State Police right now, either in Madison, or on the governor's detail, or elsewhere in the state?
By contrast, the Madison Police Department responded right away and furnished me with its policy, which is quite clear on the subject of police identifying themselves.
"The department and the community have a legitimate concern that commissioned employees not in uniform provide proof of identification," the policy states. "It is required that ... plain-clothes officers on duty offer their badge and department I.D. for examination to all persons whom they officially contact."
Reflecting on her encounter, Murphy says, "It was pretty wacky."
She adds: "If they weren't police, what the hell were they doing there? And who was paying them to be there?"
If you liked this story by Matthew Rothschild, the editor of The Progressive magazine, check out his story "Judge's Ruling Buys Time for Labor in Wisconsin."
Follow Matthew Rothschild @mattrothschild on Twitter.