Council member Sheumaker files counterclaim against Des Moines officers who arrested her in 2020




  • In US
  • 2022-08-17 10:30:22Z
  • By The Des Moines Register

A City Council member sued by two Des Moines police officers is in turn suing them, alleging that they used force unconstitutionally in arresting her and others during a protest.

Indira Sheumaker, who was elected in 2021 to represent Ward 1 on the Des Moines City Council, was charged with felony assault on a police officer after the July 1, 2020, protest outside the state Capitol. She later pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor for pushing and injuring an officer, though she now denies in her Aug. 10 counterclaim that the action was intentional.

Officers Peter Wilson and Jeffrey George sued six people, including Sheumaker, in June, accusing them of assault. The complaint says Sheumaker and another demonstrator, Clayton Stein, put George in a chokehold as the demonstrators attempted to "de-arrest" several people who police were taking into custody on prior warrants.

Previously: Felony protest-related charges dropped against activist Indira Sheumaker. She pleaded guilty to a lesser offense.

In her new filing, Sheumaker denies those accusations and adds the counterclaim alleging the officers' use of force violated her civil rights.

The officers' attorney, Mark Hedberg, said Tuesday that Sheumaker's claim is meritless.

"It's not supported by the facts or the law and will most likely be dismissed by motion," he said.

Did she jump, or was she pushed?

The July 2020 demonstration, which occurred amid nationwide protests following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers, was organized by the  Des Moines Black Liberation Movement to urge Gov. Kim Reynolds to drop Iowa's then-policy of not automatically restoring voting rights to felons who had served their sentences.

As laid out in prior court filings, Wilson and George, among other officers, arrived after the protest began, seeking to arrest several people suspected of damaging a police vehicle at a previous protest.

Other protestors resisted, and the scene devolved into a wrestling match captured in part on video by a Des Moines Register reporter. At least 17 people eventually were arrested. A criminal complaint filed against Sheumaker alleged she "had Officer George in a rear choke hold squeezing his throat with her arm" during the brawl.

From July 2020: Protester disarmed officer in fight outside Capitol, police say

In May 2021, she pleaded guilty to a lesser aggravated misdemeanor charge, for which she received a deferred judgment, admitting in court filings that she pushed George, causing bodily injury. In their lawsuit, the officers again accuse Sheumaker of choking George and also of striking Wilson.

Sheumaker's counterclaim gives a different account of what happened. She says she was not engaging with or speaking to either officer, but instead was taking video of the action on her cell phone when someone else in the scrum pushed against her, causing her to fall on top of George. The claims says she pushed off of George as she tried to regain her feet.

A protester is arrested outside the Iowa State Capitol Wed.
A protester is arrested outside the Iowa State Capitol Wed.  

At this point, she says, Wilson put her in a chokehold and began dragging her across the ground. Sheumaker then grabbed George to prevent Wilson from dragging her away.

The counterclaim says Wilson responded by tackling Sheumaker to the ground and that in the ensuing struggle "both officers forcefully placed their weight on Sheumaker's neck and back." It claims the move was similar to the tactics Minneapolis police Officer Derek Michael Chauvin used in the arrest that caused the death of Floyd, resulting in Chauvin's conviction for murder.

Lawsuit seeks to chill First Amendment rights, Sheumaker says

Sheumaker's counterclaim says she did not pose a threat to the officers and that their actions in choking and tackling her were excessive and unnecessary, in violation of her constitutional rights.

Her response to the officers' complaint also says she was acting in self-defense or defense of others and that prior case law bars first responders from suing over injuries sustained while responding to the cause of the injury.

March 2021: 'I shouldn't have had to go through what I did': Dozens of charges dismissed against George Floyd protesters arrested in Des Moines

It describes the officers' complaint as a "SLAPP lawsuit," or strategic lawsuit against public participation, "designed to chill free speech and Defendant Sheumaker's First Amendment rights." Unlike many states, Iowa does not have a law addressing SLAPP suits, a term generally used to describe meritless defamation claims that nevertheless cost defendants time and money to have dismissed.

The officers in their complaint alleged that activists intentionally planned physical confrontations with officers, which they described as "nothing short of domestic terrorism." In her answer, Sheumaker says she "strongly denies" that characterization and maintains that the protests in question were peaceful.

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.

This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Indira Sheumaker files counterclaim in assault lawsuit by DMPD

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