Public Safety

Iowa City Council wants law enforcement feedback on tear gas report

Protesters flee as flash grenades are set off June 3, 2020, on Dubuque Street during a march against racial injustice in
Protesters flee as flash grenades are set off June 3, 2020, on Dubuque Street during a march against racial injustice in Iowa City. Police positioned on Dubuque Street used flash grenades and tear gas in an attempt to stop protesters from entering Interstate 80. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — After getting a chance to review the investigation into the use of tear gas and flash bangs against protesters last summer, the Iowa City Council now wants to hear from law enforcement and the city manager.

“When I’m reading this, I don’t have the expert knowledge,” Iowa City Mayor Bruce Teague said Tuesday. “I think, certainly, the community is welcome to weigh in. I also think we should task our chief of police to weigh in on this ... and see what the recommendations are from them.”

Last month, the OIR Group released its report on the June 3 protest that escalated to Iowa City police officers using crowd control devices on protesters trying to access Interstate 80. The report included 39 recommendations, including training, clarifying mutual aid agreements with other law enforcement agencies and communicating better with demonstrators in the future.

City Council member Susan Mims agreed with Teague that the council lacks the knowledge of how law enforcement operates. She said discussing communication issues and practices relating to responding to protests needs that expertise.

“I think it’s really important we hear from law enforcement,” Mims said.

The council Tuesday supported having both Chief Dustin Liston and City Manager Geoff Fruin go through each of the 39 recommendations with the idea of implementing an overarching goal of keeping the public and police safe while maximizing communication and minimizing conflict.

Mayor Pro-Tem Mazahir Salih said she had unspecified concerns with the report and was putting a greater emphasis on the public’s recommendations for moving forward, rather than law enforcement’s.

“I want to hear it from the people who have been affected by the issue,” Salih said.

The council did give some thoughts to the report Tuesday. Council member John Thomas said he was most struck by the decision to block access to Interstate 80 by the Iowa State Patrol, which was out of line with the “consistent flexibility and discretion up to that point” shown by Iowa City police.

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“The decision to deny access to the interstate really put the tone and structure of the demonstration into a militaristic format,” Thomas said. “You had the skirmish line.”

Council member Pauline Taylor said the report made clear that communication — both between police and protesters and among law enforcement — was ineffective throughout the night. Other council members noted that a large number of OIR’s recommendations dealt with communication.

“This is something that definitely warrants further thoughts and planning,” Taylor said.

Mims said the OIR Group report put the demonstration into a greater context. She noted officers involved in the response had never been involved in a demonstration of that magnitude.

“I think we had a lot of people who worked on this who had never worked on something like this before,” she said.

City leaders now have 39 OIR group recommendations, 36 recommendations from Fruin’s preliminary plan to restructure the police department and 22 proposed changes to the Community Police Review Board to consider. Fruin said it’s going to take time to work through those different sets of recommendations, and discussion on police interactions with protesters “needs to happen sooner rather than later.”

“Those are going to be challenging discussions to have, but they’re critical,” he said.

Comments: (319) 339-3155; lee.hermiston@thegazette.com

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