Jul 6, 2022 - News

Des Moines police sue councilperson; BLM protesters

Illustration of a catapult loaded with a stack of lawsuit papers
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Two Des Moines Police officers are suing city Councilperson Indira Sheumaker and five other people who they say assaulted or interfered with police during a July 1, 2020 protest at the Iowa Capitol.

  • The lawsuit, filed last week, was made public Tuesday via Iowa's online court system.

What's happening: Officers Peter Wilson and Jeffrey George allege in the lawsuit that some protestors had plans and took actions that "were nothing short of domestic terrorism."

  • They seek an undisclosed amount "to redress wrongs committed against them" during the Capitol incident.

Why it matters: It underscores the unresolved tensions between police and some protesters in local demonstrations that followed the murder of George Floyd by an officer in Minneapolis.

Details: Sheumaker, Clayton Stein, Eva Lewin, Anna Gebhar, Bradley Christopher and Jennifer Erwin were associated with the still unincorporated Des Moines Black Lives Matter movement when the Capitol incident occurred, according to the lawsuit.

  • Sheumaker and Stein placed George in a chokehold, according to police reports in cases that resulted in their guilty pleas to assault on a peace officer.
  • The others pulled Wilson's hands and arms to prevent him from making an arrest, according to the lawsuit.

The other side: Protesters and some civil rights advocates said law enforcement mishandled the situation.

  • Police made the arrests in the "worst way possible" by "grabbing" protesters in the middle of the protest, rather than trying to talk to them, Drake law professor Sally Frank told the AP in 2020.

What they're saying: It's rare for officers to file civil lawsuits against people they've arrested. But Wilson and George want to bring public awareness and accountability to the case, their attorney Mark Hedberg told Axios Tuesday.

  • Axios' efforts to reach the defendants and representatives of the Des Moines Black Lives Matter were unsuccessful Tuesday afternoon.

Flashback: Multiple people accused DSM police of civil rights violations during the 2020 protests, including some who were arrested at the Capitol for allegedly swarming and attacking officers.

  • Some of the charges against protesters were later dropped while others pleaded guilty to less serious charges.
  • Meanwhile, Iowa agreed last year to pay $5,000 each to four people who were banned from the Capitol grounds after their July 2020 arrests to settle a free speech lawsuit filed on their behalf by the ACLU of Iowa.

Of note: The Des Moines Police Department is not a party in the case.

What's next: Hearing dates in the case have not been set.

  • Defendants had not filed responses to the lawsuit as of late Monday.
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