Jury finds Des Moines BLM organizer Jaylen Cavil not guilty of charges stemming from 2020 protests

Cavil's case joins dozens of others involving charges stemming from last summer's protests that have been dismissed or resulted in not-guilty verdicts, according to a Des Moines Register analysis.

William Morris
Des Moines Register

Jaylen Cavil, an organizer for Des Moines' Black Liberation Movement and a former candidate for Polk County Sheriff, was acquitted Tuesday of charges stemming from last summer's racial justice protests that resulted in several nights of protests in downtown Des Moines.

Cavil, 24, was arrested after police attempted to arrest another protester, Alexandria Dea, on an outstanding warrant. A six-person jury was shown several video clips Monday that captured the ensuing confrontation June 2, 2020, outside the Des Moines Police Department. As Det. Peter Wilson moved to place Dea in handcuffs, Cavil attempted to interpose himself between them, then stood next to Wilson, loudly demanding to know why Dea was under arrest despite repeated orders from other officers to stand aside.

In his testimony, Wilson alleged that, although no longer between him and Dea, Cavil was close enough to effectively pin him against a crowd control barrier, making it difficult to move. However, neither of the two officers who testified said Cavil ever touched them or Dea, unlike another man who had linked arms with Dea and was also arrested.

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Defense attorney Glen Downey told the jury police had arrested his client because his posture and loud questions bothered them rather than any real interference with their arrest.

"He fails to cooperate with them — he doesn’t physically touch them, he doesn’t move toward them, he simply fails to do what they ask him to do," he said. "That, by itself, is not 'interference with official acts,' but that’s the moment they decide to arrest him."

Prosecutor Brigit Barnes agreed that Cavil's questions were protected by the First Amendment, but that impeding officers in their official duties is not.

"You do not get to physically place yourself and say, 'I’m going to interfere with this arrest because I get to decide what the law is'," she said.

The jury returned their not-guilty verdict after about 30 minutes of deliberations.

Barnes said after the trial that "we respect the jury's decision." Downey, Cavil's attorney, said the case shows even acting uncooperatively or aggressively toward police does not amount to an illegal act.

"As I told the jury, I understand why the officers were upset, but being upsetting isn't a crime," he said.

Last week:Former Iowa State basketball player Cameron Lard found not guilty after being arrested amid 2020 protests

After the verdict was announced, Cavil pointed to the large number of protest cases in Polk County that have been dismissed or resulted in not-guilty verdicts. A Des Moines Register analysis in March found nearly 80 such cases related to the protests that followed the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.

"This case, like almost every other case that's been prosecuted from the protests of last summer, shows these arrests were unjust," Cavil said.

Other cases remain unresolved. Dea, the woman whose arrest Cavil allegedly obstructed, was charged with theft and unauthorized dissemination of intelligence data after police alleged that she'd taken a bulletin identifying protest suspects from an officer's pocket. A judge dismissed the second charge in July, ruling the flier didn't constitute "intelligence data," but the theft charge is still pending.

After his arrests, Cavil mounted a write-in campaign for Polk County Sheriff in the November 2020 election, receiving less than 5% of the vote. He also made headlines when he was struck by an SUV driving Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds from an event in June 2020. Investigators alleged that Cavil, who was not injured, had stepped in front of the moving vehicle. Cavil has admitted he was trying to block the governor's vehicle from leaving an event in Ackley, Iowa, but that Reynolds was wrong when she told reporters he'd stepped in front of the vehicle.

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He said Tuesday his acquittal "is just further evidence the Des Moines Police Department acted in the wrong during the protests of last summer — they arrested people they shouldn't have arrested; they put charges on people that shouldn't have had any charges put on them."

Cavil's other pending case involves a misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct for obstructing a public way. He is scheduled for a bench trial in that case in September, with Downey again representing him.

William Morris covers courts for the Des Moines Register. He can be contacted at wrmorris2@registermedia.com, 715-573-8166 or on Twitter at @DMRMorris.