The Iowa City Police Department (ICPD) has confirmed that Jonathan Charles Koch was the man seen putting pro-white stickers on the Ped Mall during the Iowa City Women’s March on Jan. 20.
After Little Village broke the news that someone in a hoodie had put “It’s Okay To Be White” stickers on Ped Mall property, and then tried to hide in MERGE after he was approached by a Women’s March participant with a camera, commentators on social media platforms tentatively identified Koch, an Iowa City resident, as the man in the Pepe the frog hoodie.
Many of the commentators were concerned because MERGE, a coworking space, is located next to the Ped Mall’s playground, and Koch was convicted of possession of child pornography in 2009.
Koch was spotted putting his stickers on public property as the Women’s March was winding down.
“I wanted to get a picture of what was happening, so I went down there,” Norbert Sarsfeld said. “When the guy saw me, he pulled his hoodie over his face and started walking away.”
Sarsfeld followed Koch as he walked to MERGE.
“He went in,” Sarsfeld said. “I started to follow him in, but he turned around, said, ‘Private property’ and he shoved me out of the door.”
Joshua Christain had also seen Koch putting up his stickers and followed him into MERGE.
“There are multiple exits from the building, and I didn’t want him to be able to just disappear with no ramification for what he’d been doing,” Christain said.
Christain knew the layout of the building from having spent time there before MERGE took over the property. He told Little Village he had the impression Koch was well acquainted with the layout of MERGE.
Koch shut himself in a conference room and made a series of calls on his cell phone, while Christain waited outside the room. Eventually, ICPD officers arrived. Officers told Christain someone who did not leave a name had called the ICPD to report a trespasser in MERGE. The officers removed Koch from the conference room and interviewed him. The incident ended without anyone being arrested.
In an email to Little Village, MERGE confirmed Koch was a member of the coworking space on Jan. 20, but said his membership was terminated later that day. Membership in MERGE is open to the public. (Little Village has a coworking membership at MERGE.)
“We have recently become aware of Mr. Koch’s past conviction and are currently reworking our member agreement and process for accepting new members to ensure this does not occur again. Mr. Koch is no longer a member of MERGE. We take the safety of our MERGE members and the community very seriously,” MERGE said in a statement provided to Little Village.
Koch was arrested by agents of the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) in May 2007 for running an illegal high stakes poker games in his Riverside, Iowa home. As part of their investigation, agents seized computer equipment, including a flash drive. Six months after he was arrested, Koch pled guilty to the charge of running an illegal gambling operation, and was placed on probation.
In 2008, a DCI agent cataloging evidence discovered child pornography on the flash drive, and reexamination of the hard drive of a computer seized from Koch uncovered more child pornography images. Koch, who had moved to Iowa City, was charged with possession of child pornography. He was convicted in July 2009. On March 21, 2010, Koch, then age 22, was sentenced to 78 months in federal prison, to be followed by five years of probation after his release.
According to a Federal Bureau of Prisons database, Koch was released from prison on July 20, 2015. When he returned to Iowa, he was placed on the Iowa Sex Offender Registry.
Departmental regulations prevented the ICPD from publicly identifying Koch as the man in the Pepe hoodie, while the incident at MERGE was being investigated. On Thursday, ICPD Sgt. Derek Frank told Little Village the investigation was now closed.
Frank said no charges had been filed as a result of the MERGE incident, but the ICPD had provided information about the incident to Koch’s probation officer.