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January 18, 1981, Plasmatics’ Wendy O. Williams Arrested For Obscenity - Today In Crime History

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On this day, January 28, in the year 1981, Plasmatics band member Wendy O. Williams was arrested on an obscenity charge for allegedly simulating a sexual act with a sledge hammer.  During her physical arrest, Williams was injured and was also charged with battery on a law enforcement officer.

The Plasmatics' Wendy O. Williams was a punk singer and performance artist known for sexually provocative performances, detonating equipment and wielding chainsaws on stage.  On January 18, 1981, she brought her act to The Palms nightclub in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  Milwaukee Police were apparently offended by William’s actions in the night club involving a sledge hammer.  She allegedly performed simulated fellatio on the sledge hammer and simulated masturbation with the sledge hammer in front of the audience.

When police came to arrest Williams, they felt it was necessary to pin her to the ground in order to control her.  After her arrest she required medical attention and received multiple stitches above her eye as a result of her alleged resistance.   The band’s manager Rod Swenson was also arrested for obstructing an officer when he attempted to protect Williams during her violent take down by police that night.

Williams’ arrest garnered significant national media attention.  The prosecutor wanted to get out from under the intense scrutiny of the media and decided to try Williams and Swensen’s cases separately.  He thought if he tried Swensen’s case first the media would lose interest.  This strategy failed miserably.  Rod Swensen’s trial began June 3, 1981 in the Circuit Court for Milwaukee County with Rod as the sole defendant.  Plasmatics fans came from more than 2,000 miles away and it was standing room only in the court room.  

Swensen’s  jury trial lasted more than one and a half weeks.  The defense lawyer presented Wendy O. Williams’ testimony, which was strong and persuasive regarding the police and their use of excessive force.   Fortunately, a photographer was nearby when the arrest occurred and was able to take pictures of the incident.  The criminal defense attorney presented the jury with a full color blow-up picture of Williams beaten on the ground surrounded and restrained by multiple police officers.  Courageous citizens who had witnessed the events came forward and were presented as witnesses by the defense attorney.  At the end of the trial, the jury deliberated only 3.5 hours before finding Rod Swensen not guilty.

The prosecutor, having lost the case against Swensen at trial, decided to drop all charges against Wendy O. Williams.

Sources and more information:

Wendy O. and Plasmatics Bio Page

Post Punk Diary: 1980-1982, by George Gimarc, page 121 (Macmillan 1997)

Notable Moments of Women in Music, by Jay Warner, page 227 (Hal Leonard Corporation 2008)

SPIN Magazine, The Love Song of Wendy O. Williams, by Joy Williams,  September 1998

Tagged in: arrested music

Michael Buchanan is a practicing criminal defense attorney in Gainesville, Florida, with more than 25 years experience defending people accused of criminal misconduct. He is a former president of the Eighth Judicial Circuit chapter of the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. He is a member of the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. Read detailed professional biography here.