Government

Iowa City Council weighs about-face on external review of flash bangs, tear gas

'The State Patrol that was making all the calls'

Iowa City Mayor pro tem Mazahir Salih records a video as protestors gather at the Dubuque street on and off ramps to Int
Iowa City Mayor pro tem Mazahir Salih records a video as protestors gather at the Dubuque street on and off ramps to Interstate 80 during a protest against racial injustice in Iowa City on Thursday, June 4, 2020.

IOWA CITY — After agreeing more than a month ago to hire an independent firm to investigate the use of tear gas and flash bangs against protesters in June, some Iowa City Council members Tuesday — having seen video of the event — questioned whether $50,000 for a review could be better spent.

Mayor Pro Tem Salih Mazahir during a work session asked peers what they thought about skipping the contract with a California firm if “the main question was, who made the call to do that?”

“We know who made the call, and the mayor and I have had a chance to watch the video, and it can clearly tell us exactly who made the call.”

Mayor Bruce Teague echoed her, calling out the entity he said ordered tear gas and flash bangs used to keep Black Lives Matter protesters from Interstate 80.

“We did watch the video, and it was clear that it was the State Patrol that was making all the calls for this,” he said.

The city’s move toward an independent inquiry of the incident was among a list of actions it resolved to take following discussions with local protest leaders.

The council also resolved to ban the use of chokeholds and charged officers with intervening to stop excessive force.

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Teague, in supporting redirection to handle the inquiry in-house, cited those actions the city has taken in response to protester concerns.

“When it comes down to the protests, the question really that I got from the community was. “who made the call?” Teague said

Not all council members supported rejecting the proposal to pay OIR Group LLP of Playa del Ray, Calif. $200 an hour — up to $50,000 — to review a broad range of Iowa City police actions on June 3 and its policies in effect that night, among other things.

“My recollection was that we’ve talked about the question of whether we should do an internal or external report a couple of times,” council member Laura Bergus said, recounting the decision that a deep-dive review resulting in a “complete and independent report” was best.

Council member Susan Mims agreed and said she was taken aback by the suggestion.

“I’m just kind of surprised by what I’m hearing tonight,” Mims said. “Because it seems like a complete 180 from our previous discussion.”

Acknowledging the council didn’t plan to vote on the contract during its formal meeting Tuesday, the members agreed to vote it up or down at the next meeting — and they urged members of the public to reach out with feedback.

Having listened to the work session, members of the public already started weighing in at the formal council meeting that followed.

Two speakers — learning of the new video evidence — suggested the council make that public.

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Mazahir suggested asking the state to issue a statement confirming its role in the June 3 events. But council members raised skepticism.

And that, said council member Pauline Taylor, is where an inquiry could be most helpful.

“Having the state be held accountable, if indeed they were the ones that called on these actions to take place, and more or less forced our officers to take part in it, they should be held accountable,” Taylor said. “They should be made aware of, that’s not acceptable in our community.”

BLM mural

The Iowa City Council on Tuesday also agreed to move forward with a public art recommendation to install a downtown mural honoring the Black Lives Matter movement — on the Capitol Street Parking Ramp, facing Burlington Street.

Funding for the $42,500 project is coming from the University of Iowa and the Iowa City Public Art Program — with the majority, $30,000, coming from the art program and the remaining $12,500 from UI. Work on the mural is expected to start in September and wrap in the spring.

Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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