Like pulling teeth: Nonprofit group faces resistance from Des Moines to provide police 'use of force' data from 2020 protests

Lawsuit emerges in the fight for details from the Des Moines Police Department.

Editor's Note: Protests held in the wake of George Floyd's murder changed the world and Des Moines. This must-read series about the protests, researched and written by Just Voices will appear exclusively in Black Iowa News. (The views and opinions expressed in this series are solely the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Black Iowa News.)

Protesters clash with police in Chicago, on May 30, 2020, during a protest against the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died while while being arrested and pinned to the ground by the knee of a Minneapolis police officer. (Photo by Jim Vondruska/NurPhoto via Getty Images).

By Just Voices

Without the cooperation of the Des Moines Police, Just Voices has had to find data, information and stories independently through research and FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests. We know there were at least 40 different protests in Des Moines following the horrendous murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers. And we know over 90% of protests in Des Moines (and across the nation) were peaceful and non-violent.

But there’s so much more to discover. We’ve talked to protesters who experienced violence from the Des Moines Police, were victims of excessive force and were placed under bogus arrests. We have obtained videos of police brutality from pepper spraying a resident just walking down the street to knocking a pedestrian down to the ground and confiscating his cell phone.

Requesting Information on the DMPD’s use of force in 2020

You would think tracking data and relevant details on the use of force is something any modern-day police department should do. The data and details about the DMPD’s use of force is very high-level and not very detailed.

The DMPD did finally produce and give Just Voices a summary of use of force incidents for all of 2020. The report stated that there were 282 personal contacts which involved a use of force. It goes on to report that there were 387 use of force reports made regarding those 282 incidents.

Just Voices asked for the individual record on each incident, like the ones in the videos linked above. Such reports are to be filed by an officer at the end of each tour of duty.

Protests in the wake of George Floyd's murder in Des Moines, Iowa. Photo used with permission from Just Voices.

Our request for use of force information

Just to be clear, we asked for the following information from the City of Des Moines regarding use of force incidents by the Des Moines Police during some of the summer of 2020. We requested:

  • A copy of any and all reports made by all officers (whether employed by Des Moines or other law enforcement agencies) on use of force that followed the murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020. The communications being requested are from May 25, 2020, up to and including July 4, 2020.

We defined use of force to include, but not limited to, the use of any and all of the following:

  • Handcuff/leg restraint, bodily force (arm, foot, or leg), come-alongs, unholstering a weapon, swarm, twist locks/wrist locks, chemical agents, flash bomb, batons, flashlights, dog attacks or bites, electrical devices, rubber bullets, civilians shot at but not hit, any other impact devices, neck restraints, unconsciousness rendering holds, Vehicle rammings, civilians shot and killed, civilians shot and wounded but not killed.

Note that by law, we are within our rights to request this type of information and we understand there could be a reasonable fee for the DMPD to prepare and provide it. We have paid those fees many times over the years.

Left with no choice – Just Voices decides to sue the city of Des Moines

After months of emails, even face-to-face meetings, Des Moines legal maintains that it will not provide these records. The city is claiming that they are personnel records and thereby exempt from disclosure. They also claim that these individual use of force reports are an “attorney work product in anticipation of litigation.”

Left with no other choice, a lawsuit against the city officials who refuse to provide this information or records has recently been filed. (Case number CVCV064414).

Help us write “The People’s History”

Despite the resistance Just Voices has and will continue to face, we persist in providing the public with the truth about what happened here during the summer of 2020 protests. Why? So that we might see meaningful police reform, better transparency and accountability, which are all factors in improving community trust and better public safety. And ultimately, we’re doing this research and review because we seek truth and justice.

You can be part of this effort. Here’s a number of ways to contribute:

  • If you have a story to share from your experience with the Summer of 2020 protests, we’d love to talk to you.
  • If you have any photos you took or videos you recorded, we’ll publish them.
  • If you had charges assessed against you, we’d love a copy of the criminal complaint filed against you.
  • If you sued the city and the DMPD for any reason related to your experience as a protester and you were represented by an attorney, we’d love copies of all documentation related to your lawsuit.

Please help us write the People’s History so the truth can be spoken. Just reach out to us online and we’ll get back to you right away.

Top banner: Protesters demonstrate on June 2, 2020, during a "Black Lives Matter" protest in New York City. – Anti-racism protests have put several US cities under curfew to suppress rioting, following the death of George Floyd while in police custody. (Photo by Johannes EISELE / AFP) (Photo by JOHANNES EISELE/AFP via Getty Images)

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