Public Safety

'We need help': After brawl at apartment complex, residents plead to Cedar Rapids officials

(Screenshot of video submitted to the Gazette.)
(Screenshot of video submitted to the Gazette.)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Cedar Rapids officials vowed a “full review” of a sprawling fight that led to four arrests on Monday at an apartment complex prone to disturbances after fed-up neighbors pleaded for help to City Council members during a Tuesday meeting.

The brawl outside the southwest quadrant complex involving teens and young adults on Monday was the last straw for some residents of Cedar Valley Townhomes, 3000 J St. SW, who say they are trying to raise families and live in peace.

“Youth violence is getting out of control, and we have to do something,” said Veronica Johnson, of Cedar Rapids. “We need help. Parents are being assaulted when they are trying to keep their kids from getting jumped. We need help. We have to stand up for our youth.”

Johnson and other speakers said it was the second fight in as many days and that kids involved posted videos on Facebook bragging. Police have been called to 3000 J St. SW 42 times since July 15, according to Cedar Rapids Police records.

Some criticized police response as insufficient and not quick enough, but police said they were on scene in four minutes and an officer was out of his car trying to break up a fight, not in his car for fear of the large crowd, as some speakers suggested.

“Their account of what happened is definitely concerning,” said Cedar Rapids Police Chief Wayne Jerman. “I have initiated a full review of the action of the police department for a couple of reasons — to review the action taken by the officers but also that we are continuing a criminal investigation to see if others need to be held accountable.”

Jerman said police will review bodycam and dashcam video, surveillance footage, computer logs, and cellphone footage from witnesses.

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Gabriella Wilkins, a resident who gave birth this month, described rushing outside to defend her 15-year-old son, including trying to cover him to protect him from being beaten. Kids from another part of town were looking for someone specific and when they couldn’t find him attacked her son, she said.

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CEDAR RAPIDS - Neighbors and an apartment complex official on Wednesday said outsiders instigated a large fight that led to four arrests in a southwest quadrant neighborhood earlier this week in Cedar Rapids.

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“Had my baby not been trained on his life to protect himself they would have killed my son,” said Wilkins, fighting through tears, describing her son as a good, active student. “I work hard. I’m trying to keep my son away from violence, but this is not going to help me if I don’t have a city that supports me trying to bring my son up the right way.”

According to police reports, officers were dispatched at 5:30 p.m., Monday. The first officer on the scene tried to separate two people from fighting. The officer called for backup to help with the crowd of about 20 people.

Cellphone video suggests a larger crowd, though an exact count couldn’t be determined.

Police arrested and charged Caige Thomas Theis, 19, Deandre Daniels Jr., 21, Davon Jerome Browning, 19, and a 16-year-old boy, all from Cedar Rapids, with disorderly conduct. Browning was also charged with interference with official acts, and Daniels also had three previous warrants for violation of probation for drug charges, according to police.

Additional reports suggested some of those involved ran toward Grant Elementary and Wilson Middle School where attempts to fight continued, according to police.

At 7:19 p.m., police were called to Sixth Avenue and 15th Street SE about another fight involving some of the same people. The crowd scattered when police arrived.

City Manager Jeff Pomeranz echoed the call for a review and said of the speakers’ accounts, “this is unacceptable in our community.” City Council member Dale Todd, who’s been pushing to advance the cause of the Safe Equitable Thriving Communities task force, which was convened to respond to youth gun violence in 2015, called on officials to be more proactive. City Council members have been weighing how to advance the SET task force recommendations since the beginning of the year — recommendations were submitted in early 2017 — but have yet to settle on a direction.

“I know we are moving, but this was specifically designed to be a response to this type of activity,” Todd said. “The fact it is not in place, we all share some responsibility for that.”

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Council member Ann Poe told those in attendance, “We all share the same commitment to getting our arms around this, and making sure our community is a safe place for you and your children. I’m so sorry you are having to live through this, and please know that no mother, no grandmother, no great grandmother should have to live through what you are living through.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8310; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

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