For several days, Democratic State Senator Matt Klein had noticed that one of his tires was continuously deflating.
When he finally got around to changing it, he found a screw embedded in its side, sticking out like a golf tee. Klein told the mechanic to keep it in the tire so he could take a few photos. To him, this was more than a screw. It was a message.
To understand the screw’s significance, we should revisit a mysterious series of events that took place this spring. It was April in West St. Paul, which is a hop, skip, and a jump away from Klein’s Mendota Heights home. Jenny Halverson, who, in 2016, became the city’s first ever female mayor, had just made an impassioned speech calling out sexism in city government. Soon afterward, she found a box of tampons discarded on her doorstep.
During the next City Council meeting, dozens of women attended and spoke out in support of the mayor. From then on, they said, she would not be the only woman sitting in an old boys’ club. They would rally around one another, and they would refuse to be pushed around and humiliated. The Women of West St. Paul group was born.
In the following days, its members would keep in touch on Facebook Messenger. In one of their day-to-day conversations, they would discover they had an interesting thing in common: flat tires.
Five or six of their wheels had been spiked with drywall screws. They all filed police reports.
Katie Dohman remembers when a West St. Paul police officer came out to have a word with her about the incident. He asked her what happened, and whether she’d somehow gotten it on video.
No, she told him. She hadn’t, apropos of nothing, had a camera trained on her car the night before someone stuck a screw in her tire.
The officer said there wasn’t much they could do, even if this had been an organized attack on the people who’d spoken out against the anti-woman sentiment in West St. Paul’s City Council. His attitude, she says, seemed to be that the best course of action was to wait until things blew over.
The West St. Paul Police Department didn’t respond to interview requests.
The women weren’t willing to wait for whoever did this to move on. The subject of screws in tires has become a topic of public discussion at City Council meetings. Halverson told Fox 9 News that the screws were “pretty clearly retaliation” for the women speaking out, whether or not there was enough evidence to file a criminal complaint.
In the meantime, the investigation petered to a standstill. Dohman sent the police department an email asking how it was going and was assured all the information had been given to an officer assigned to the case. She and her fellow targets say they have heard nothing else since.
“I don’t even know how to feel about it,” says Kali Freeman, whose husband, John Justen, found a screw in the tire of their station wagon. “It’s such an obvious connection. All of us spoke, and all of us got screws in our tires.”
Months passed. West St. Paul geared up for the primary. Matt Klein put a sign in his yard supporting Wendy Berry, who’s running for the West St. Paul City Council. She too has spoken out against sexism in city government. Her opponent is the city’s former mayor, David Meisinger.
And now there’s a screw in his tire, too.
Dohman still believes these punctured tires are all connected, and that unnerves her. Now that there’s a state lawmaker on the roster of targets, she’s worried this kind of attack could escalate. A screw in a tire is scary enough. She drives her three kids around in that car, and a blowout could have killed someone. But next time, she worries, it might not be a screw.
Maybe the police simply don’t have enough evidence to pin down a suspect, she said. But it’s still happening.
There’s also a note of defiance in the wake of this latest incident. Klein posted about the incident on Facebook, saying he stood with Berry, and that “a screw in my interior sidewall won’t slow that train down.”
Berry, in kind, made her own statement on Facebook:
“We will not be intimidated,” she wrote. “We will not be silenced. These things will continue to not be forgotten. We will get to the polls. We will vote. We will win.”
Klein still has the tire, and the screw. They’re mounted on the back of his car, like a badge of honor.