Iowa to pay 5 Black Liberation protesters to settle civil rights allegations


DES MOINES — A state panel on Monday approved a $70,000 settlement with five protesters supporting the Black Lives Matter movement who were arrested after a scuffle broke out with police at the Iowa Capitol in July 2020.

Three members of the State Appeal Board unanimously agreed the state should pay $5,000 each to Jalesha Johnson, Louise Bequeaith, Haley Jo Dikkers, Brad Penna and Brandi Ramus to settle civil rights violation allegations they brought against the state Department of Public Safety that houses the Iowa State Patrol. The settlement also provided $45,000 to cover attorney fees associated with the case.

The five Des Moines Black Liberation Movement protesters filed a lawsuit in federal court last year seeking to block Iowa State Patrol troopers from arresting them if they return to the Iowa State Capitol or property surrounding the building.

The defendants were granted temporary injunctive relief by the federal court last December. During Monday’s board meeting, Anne Updegraff of the Iowa Attorney General’s Office advised that the state settle the matter and that the $70,000 payment was deemed to be “a fair settlement.”

Approving the proposed judgment were State Treasurer Mike Fitzgerald, the board’s president, and board members State Auditor Rob Sand and Michael Bousselot, director of the state Department of Management.

Johnson, Bequeaith, Dikkers, Penna and Ramus were among 17 people protesting in support of the Black Lives Matter movement at the Capitol in July 2020. They were calling for Gov. Kim Reynolds to sign an executive order restoring voting rights for felons, an action she took the following month.

The five were arrested when a scuffle broke out between police and the protesters. Afterward, they were told by troopers that if they returned to the state property around the building they would be arrested for trespassing. Some were banned for six months and others for a year.

They claimed the ban blocked their fundamental constitutional rights of free speech, assembly, their right to petition their government, their fundamental freedom of movement and due process.

Attorneys representing the protesters argued there is no statutory authority for such a ban and a federal district court ruled last December in favor of the protesters, saying the state can’t ban them from the Iowa Capitol Complex grounds. The court issued a preliminary injunction, saying the ban was likely to violate the activists’ rights because it restricts all “expressive activity” at the Iowa State Capitol.

The lawsuit, filed by the ACLU of Iowa, sought to invalidate the bans permanently. Now that the State Appeal Board has approved the settlement, attorneys still have to file for dismissal with the court, and then it will be up to the court to determine whether to approve a request to dismiss the lawsuit and finalize the settlement.

The settlement resolves the lawsuit, which named Iowa Department of Public Safety Commissioner Stephan Bayens and Iowa State Patrol Lt. Steven Lawrence, Sgt. Tyson Underwood and Trooper Durk Pearston. In addition to the payment, the state agreed to withdraw all verbal and written bans to the protesters.

OTHER SETTLEMENTS

Overall, the three-member appeal board approved five settlements totaling $327,500.

The panel agreed to pay $22,500 to settle a lawsuit alleging negligence by the University of Iowa when Connie Kyner fell while getting out of the shower at the Rossi Guest House in Iowa City in September 2015. Kyner’s fall required surgery to repair a fractured patella and prevented her from being able to be with her daughter when she died, according to Monday’s board discussion.

Also, the University of Iowa Physicians agreed to pay Donna Moore $100,000 to settle allegations of negligence by University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in the performance of hip surgery in April 2018. The state denied the allegations made in the medical malpractice lawsuit but agreed to settle the claim.

A separate $100,000 payment was made to settle a negligence claim brought by Gary Lazear, who was injured when he fell into a ditch at the Iowa State Fair while camping with his wife. Updegraff said the ditch was the result of erosion.

And finally, the board approved a $35,000 payment to settle Peggy Waters’ allegation of disability discrimination against the University of Iowa.

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