Iowa pays protesters $70,000, rescinds State Patrol's ban against them entering Capitol
Editor's note: This story has been updated with the news that a federal district court judge approved the proposed settlement Tuesday, Oct. 17, and with reaction from the plaintiffs in the suit.
In a settlement with protestors arrested at the Capitol last summer, the state will pay the protesters $70,000 and no longer ban them from entering the building.
The settlement, approved Tuesday by the Federal District Court for the Southern District of Iowa, is being hailed as a victory for the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa, which helped represent the protestors in their suit against the state.
"We are very pleased with this outcome. We are grateful to our clients for challenging the constitutionality of these bans," ACLU of Iowa's legal director, Rita Bettis Austen, said Tuesday. "They are protecting their fellow protesters and everyone else who wasn’t a plaintiff in this case by getting the bans of all protesters withdrawn. The state also agreed not to issue the same type of ban in the future."
Five protestors sued Department of Public Safety Commissioner Stephan Bayens in U.S. District Court in October, arguing the blanket ban they received from law enforcement officials was illegal. The group was among 17 protestors Des Moines police arrested on charges of disorderly conduct or assault at the Capitol on July 1, 2020.
After their arrests, the protestors received letters from the Iowa State Patrol telling them they were banned from the Capitol grounds for up to a year. The agency cited a trespassing statute in state law.
An attorney for Jalesha Johnson, Louise Bequeaith, Brad Penna, Brandi Ramus and Haley Jo Dikkers argued that law enforcement officials could not ban people from public property using that law. The lawyer said the protestors did not get a chance to defend themselves from the ban and that they had not been convicted of any offenses, either, when it was imposed.
Des Moines police arrested the protestors after they gathered at the Capitol to advocate against a law that banned convicted felons from voting.
Of the five protestors who sued, a judge dismissed the charges levied against four.
Penna was the only one found guilty. Des Moines police charged him with assault, alleging he had joined other protestors in pulling at an officer's arms while the officer was trying to arrest another protestor. Prosecutors reached a plea agreement with Penna on a charge of interference with official acts. He paid a $250 fine.
The settlement rescinded the ban and awarded each of the protesters $5,000. Their attorney received $45,000. It also mandated that Iowa State Patrol officers stationed on the Iowa Capitol Complex grounds go through training on First Amendment rights.
The protestors all said they were pleased with the outcome, but disappointed that the ban had happened in the first place.
"The most important work we did happened on the Capitol grounds. I feel hopeful and inspired that we’ll be able to frequent the Capitol again," Johnson said in a statement. "When the ban was in place, it meant I was at risk of arrest by police for nothing more than protesting lawfully at the Capitol. I am relieved that I don’t have to feel that way anymore."
"(This is a ) huge step toward making the most political space in the city and even the whole state accessible to people," Penna added Tuesday. "They can’t ban people following protests now, and they know it’s part of a larger movement."
Spokespeople for the State Patrol did not return calls seeking comment.
In addition to Bayens, the civil lawsuit named State Patrol Lt. Steve Lawrence, State Patrol Sgt. Tyson Underwood and State Patrol Trooper Durk Pearston as defendants.