Des Moines BLM leader arrested in Iowa City, faces felony charges

University of Iowa Police officers at the Old Capitol shortly before the IFR protest on Aug. 30, 2020 began. — Paul Brennan/Little Village

Matthew Bruce, one of the leaders of Des Moines BLM, was arrested in Iowa City late on Monday night. Bruce has been charged with nine counts of assault on a police officer with intent to cause harm, a class D felony, and one count of interfering with official acts, a simple misdemeanor.

According to KCRG, the charges are related to two incidents that occurred during the protest led by the Iowa Freedom Riders on Monday night. The University of Iowa Police allege Bruce pointed a laser beam light at the eyes of several officers, causing injuries that required medical treatment.

The first incident allegedly happened at 8:28 p.m. at the University of Iowa President’s residence, and the second at 11:36 p.m. on the Pentacrest.

The criminal complaint says police officers asked Bruce to stop and he fled, KCRG reported.

Bruce was arrested by UI Police officers at 11:40 p.m. and he was booked into the Johnson County Jail shortly after midnight. According to the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office, Bruce was released at 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday.

IFR led a fourth night of protest on Monday to push for faster action by the Iowa City Council to enact the changes set forth in the 17-point resolution the city council passed on June 16.

The protest began at the Pentacrest, where approximately 150 people gathered. The barricades that were placed in front of the Old Capitol Building on Saturday were still in place, and once again, UI Police officers were on duty. The protesters marched north, and one of their stops was at the UI President’s residence. The residence was guarded by UI Police officers.

The march continued, eventually heading up N Dubuque Street toward the I-80 exit. A line of law enforcement officers — including Iowa City Police Department officers, Johnson County Sheriff’s deputies and troopers from the Iowa State Patrol — were blocking the road.

It was the same location where protesters were tear-gassed by law enforcement officers on June 3. On Monday, there was an standoff between protesters and law enforcement, during which chanting protesters came within a few feet of officers who stood quietly, but no altercation occurred.

After approximately an hour, the protesters marched back to the Pentacrest.

Each of the nine of felonies Bruce has been charged with are punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of between $75 and $7,500. The simple misdemeanor carries a penalty of a $65 to $625 fine and the possibility of up to 30 days in jail if convicted.

Bruce was already facing charges in Polk County related to BLM protests in Des Moines. In June, he turned himself in, after the Des Moines Police Department charged him with criminal mischief for an incident in which a DMPD patrol car was spray-painted. He was also arrested in August on a charge of interfering with official actions when DMPD alleged he ordered protesters to block the route of an undercover police car.


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Speaking to the Des Moines Register in June, the 24-year-old Bruce said he was moved to become an activist by the killing Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014. Brown, a Black man, was shot dead by a white police officer.

“It was like watching it happen to myself,” Bruce said. Like Brown, he was 18 years old in 2014. “All of these things that they were saying to try and diminish his character, they could’ve said about me.”

Bruce emerged as one of the leaders of the Black Lives Matter protests that began in Des Moines following the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers on May 25. Bruce was one of the protest leaders who met with Iowa legislators in early June to push them to pass police reform.

In response to the protests that took place in late May and early June, the Iowa Legislature passed a major reform bill aimed at limiting police violence in less than two hours on June 11.

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