Iowa council member countersues police over protest arrest

From the Associated Press

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — A Des Moines council member is countersuing two police officers who took the unusual step earlier this year of suing several people who participated in a 2020 protest following a Minneapolis officer’s killing of George Floyd.

FILE – Protestors chant “Let them go” as Des Moines, Iowa, police vans arrive at the Polk County Jail after protestors were arrested outside the Capitol, in Des Moines, Wednesday, July 1, 2020. Two central Iowa police officers are suing Indira Sheumaker, who is a sitting Des Moines City Council member, and five other people who participated in a racial justice protest in 2020. Now, Sheumaker is countersuing the two police officers. (Zach Boyden-Holmes/The Des Moines Register via AP, File)

Councilwoman Indira Sheumaker’s countersuit says that Officers Peter Wilson and Jeffrey George used excessive force and violated her civil rights when they arrested her during a protest on July 1, 2020, outside the Iowa State Capitol. Sheumaker’s lawsuit — first reported by the Des Moines Register — also accuses the officers of filing a frivolous lawsuit against protesters.

In June, Wilson and George sued Sheumaker and five other protesters, accusing them of assault and seeking monetary damages, including an unspecified amount in punitive damages.

The protest was among demonstrations against racism and police brutality that erupted worldwide following Floyd’s killing. It began as a rally at the Iowa State Capitol to push for the restored voting rights to felons and turned violent as police led away arrested protesters.

The officers’ lawsuit — which they filed as individuals and not as representatives of the Des Moines Police Department — accuses Sheumaker and another protester of putting George in a chokehold as protesters attempted to thwart the officers’ attempts to arrest several people on prior warrants.

The officers’ lawsuit describes protesters’ actions as “nothing short of domestic terrorism.” Protesters have said police escalated tensions and were heavy-handed in their handling of arrests.

Sheumaker, who was elected to the City Council in 2021 on a platform calling for police reform, denies the officers’ accusations in her countersuit. The lawsuit says she was taking video of police actions at the protest when she was pushed by the crowd into George. As she tried to get back on her feet, her countersuit says, Wilson put her in a chokehold and dragged her across the ground before both officers tackled her.

Sheumaker also states in her counter claim that that the officers’ lawsuit is barred by Iowa case law known as the “fireman’s rule,” which holds that firefighting and policing are inherently dangerous jobs and generally keeps emergency responders from suing or collecting damages for injuries that occur in the course of their duties.

The officers’ attorney, Mark Hedberg, called Sheumaker’s claim meritless, the Register reported.