Three months after law enforcement officers used tear gas, pepper spray, flash-bang grenades and other munitions on protesters marching up Dubuque Street on June 3, Iowa City released two police body-camera videos from that night.
The Iowa City Council had directed City Manager Geoff Fruin to release the footage at its Tuesday night meeting.
During the city council’s Aug. 18 meeting, Mayor Bruce Teague and Mayor Pro Temp Mazahir Salih both said they had seen ICPD body-cam footage from the June 3 conflict between law enforcement officers and protesters who were attempting to march to I-80. Teague said the footage showed it was an Iowa State Patrol officer who ordered the use of tear gas that night.
After Teague and Salih disclosed the existence of the footage, its release was demanded by many members of the public and the media, as well as by the Iowa Freedom Riders. The IFR was leading the protest march that night, although it had not yet adopted its name.
The city released two body-cam videos, both over an hour long. One is from an ICPD officer who was at the front of the line of law enforcement officers on Dubuque Street, the second is from ICPD who had a command role and spent most of his time behind the front line.
It is the second video that shows decisions being made that night, and as Mayor Teague said, it shows an Iowa State Patrol officer, Lt. Greg Obbink, was in overall command.
The press statement accompanying the release of the videos did not name any of the officers, but Obbink’s name is used several times in the video. The names of the two ICPD officers wearing the body-cams are not discernible from the videos.
When the videos begin, law enforcement officers have already formed lines stretching across Dubuque Street. A few protesters who arrived ahead of the main body of marchers have been engaging with the officers, telling them — sometimes shouting at them — about the fear and stress caused by living in a society where law enforcement has a systemic racism problem. They say the officer will be held accountable for their actions.
“You work for us, period,” one protester says. “Period.”
The officers on the line stand quietly in formation.
Behind the lines, the ICPD officer with the body camera is explaining to other officers what is about to happen. A decision has already been made not to allow the protesters to reach the interstate, even though ISP has blocked I-80 and diverted traffic.
“They [ISP] are going to make three announcements,” the ICPD officer says. The announcements will be the formal orders to disperse. “ISP will make three announcements,” the ICPD officer repeats. “He will say [to the other officers], ‘deploy munitions.’ Lt. Obbink will say deploy munitions. At that point we’ll deploy munitions. We will deploy at the point ISP does it.”
According to the press release from the city, “A total of nine members of the Iowa City Metro Special Rescue Team, which is an inter-agency group comprised of staff trained to navigate high-risk situations, consisting of personnel from the City of Iowa City and the University of Iowa Police Department, deployed munitions that evening.”
Along with ICPD, University of Iowa Police and ISP officers that night were deputies from the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office.
After informing his fellow officers what will happen, the ICPD officer tell an officer who isn’t already wearing a gas mask to tell the protesters they will not be allowed to march onto the interstate.
“You’re not going past us,” the officer tells the protesters who were already engaging with the police. “The answer is no. You will not go past.”
“All right, then shoot me,” a protester replies.
As they are waiting for the main group of marchers to get closer, a deputy asks the ICPD officer wearing the body-cam, “Do we want to throw some bangs first, or we’re just going straight to gas?”
“I think he’s just going straight to gas,” the officer says of Obbink. The officer then asks the deputy, “The bangs were effective the other night, weren’t they?”
“Yeah,” the deputy replies. “They might want to do that first.”
When the ICPD officer makes that suggestion to Obbink, the lieutenant says, “Yeah. I’m good with that.”
As the hundreds of protesters who marched that night start to approach the line of law enforcement officers, something happens that might have made the night end very differently.
A deputy suggests to the ICPD officer they make a deal with protesters, some of whom have been calling for the officers to take a knee in solidarity with the cause of Black Lives Matter. If the protesters take a knee, the officers should take a knee, the deputy says. The ICPD officer appears to agree, but before he can reach Lt. Obbink on the other side of the formation, Obbink begins to read out the dispersal order using a bullhorn.
The order to disperse is given twice more, then flash-bangs and tear gas are used on the protesters, who retreat in confusion.
Some officers begin to go after the protesters, but the ICPD officer with the body-cam orders them to remain on the line.
One thing that is obvious from the body-cam video is that law enforcement officers were worried the cars that accompanied the marchers would be used against them.
“I’m concerned they’re going to charge us here in a second,” the ICPD officer says to an ISP officer.
“Yeah, I am, too,” the trooper replies.
Orders for the cars to turn around are given by bullhorn, but as one officer points out, it doesn’t look like the drivers can hear the orders.
Officers continue to use smoke grenades, flash-bangs and pepper-spray on the protesters, who occasionally throw items and launch fireworks in the direction of law enforcement. ICPD officers also fire pepper balls at protesters.
After approximately 10 minutes, a second round of tear gas canisters are fired.
“I can’t believe how many are sticking around,” the ICPD officer says after the second round of tear gas. “It can’t feel good.”
“No. I got a mouthful of it and thought I was going to choke,” another officer says.
The standoff continues with the officers still occasionally firing pepper balls at protesters and using other munitions.
Eventually, ICPD officers begin to run out of the munitions they are using.
The officer with the body cam sends another ICPD officer to get some more, and then goes to talk to Obbink. The officer suggests the remaining protesters be allowed to march to the interstate, since traffic has already been diverted from I-80.
“What do we lose?” he asks. “There’s nobody on there, right?”
Obbink doesn’t appear to give the proposal serious consideration. Instead he talks on the radio and walks off.
Shortly after, the marchers head back towards downtown. Officers hear them making plans to return the following night.
The next day, the tear-gassing of the protesters was widely condemned. That night, the protesters marched peacefully up Dubuque Street, past law enforcement officers, and onto I-80.
In addition to ordering the release of the body-cam footage on Tuesday, the city council also approved a contract for a California consulting firm to conduct an independent review of the actions of ICPD officers on June 3 and issue a report.
According to the city, the review is expected to be finished 90 days after it begins, but a start date has not yet been announced.