Jaylen Cavil, an organizer of the Des Moines Black Liberation Movement and former Polk County Sheriff candidate, was acquitted on Friday of blocking a street during a protest last year.
Cavil, 24, has been charged with obstructing a public highway, a felony charge of disorderly driving. Police argued in the criminal complaint that unforeseen marches put protesters and others at risk. Magistrate Beth Tigges heard arguments during a bench trial on September 15.
Cavil said at trial that he was not an organizer of the September 22, 2020 protest and was simply participating. The group was protesting after a nurse at an immigration and customs enforcement facility in Georgia said the women at the facility had undergone questionable gynecological procedures, including full hysterectomies. Between 150 and 200 people marched from the Neal Smith Federal Building to the Pappajohn Sculpture Park on the day of the protest.
The march came after Cavil and other members of the local civil rights group met with City of Des Moines director Scott Sanders on Zoom, according to a criminal complaint. Sanders told Cavil at the meeting that it was not legal to take to the streets and start a protest and block traffic, according to a video released during the trial.
“We need to have advance notice,” Sanders said in the video.
From 2020:Black Lives Matter activists rally downtown to support protesters arrested in recent protests
Cavil’s attorney Glen Downey argued at trial that if something happens and people spontaneously take to the streets, they cannot be required to obtain a permit.
Cavil said six organizations planned the protest and he didn’t ask organizers if they got a permit first.
“I didn’t plan the walk or the venue,” Cavil said.
Photos from a Facebook Live video and a video from Register Reporter Melody Mercado, which covered the protest, showed Cavil in front of the crowd. Officer Ben Carter, who watched the event live on Facebook but was not present at the event, said Cavil blocked traffic as part of the group.
“This group has extended from curb to curb a number of times,” Carter said. “Absolutely no way a vehicle could cross this roadway.”
But Carter admitted that, in the photos, Cavil wasn’t blocking any vehicles trying to get through the crowds. Carter also said he didn’t know who was responsible for obtaining a permit.
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In his decision, released Friday, Tigges declared Cavil not guilty and dismissed the charge, finding “no evidence to show that a road was actually obstructed by the accused”.
Although Cavil was on the roadway, he was on the line between two lanes of traffic, Tigges said, and was moving with traffic rather than blocking it.
“He traveled along the road, following behind a vehicle that was also moving,” she wrote. “Therefore, the street was not obstructed or hampered in its use.”
As to the state’s argument that Cavil was responsible for the large crowd of protesters, who blocked the street, Tigges found there was no evidence that Cavil was responsible for planning or directing a walk.
Cavil admitted at trial that he was an organizer of the Black Liberation Movement. He also worked for the non-profit association Urban Dreams. In early August, Cavil was acquitted of interrupting the arrest of another protester on June 2, 2020.
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He said he took part in protests where police ordered people to disperse and said they were doing illegal things. During that protest, officers were on the outskirts of the event and never said they needed a permit, Cavil said.
“Never that night did the police tell me that I was breaking the law or that what we did was illegal,” Cavil said.
Prosecutor Brad Kinkade repeatedly asked Cavil why he was blocking the street.
“It’s protected in the First Amendment,” Cavil said.
Downey said the United States Supreme Court ruled that laws such as Des Moines Chapter 20, section 102, which governs street trade events, are unconstitutional because they restrict “spontaneous speech.”
“What the state is trying to do here is stop Mr. Cavil from exercising his freedom of speech,” Downey said.
Tigges denied Downey’s request to dismiss the case on First Amendment grounds.
An analysis of the Des Moines registry found in March that nearly 80 cases related to protests after the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer have either been dismissed or resulted in not guilty verdicts.
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On September 24, Cavil received a civil citation for disrupting a meeting of Des Moines city council on June 14. If found guilty, Cavil could face a $ 1,500 fine.
This meeting was the first city council meeting in over 15 months. The meeting was called off by shouting from members of the public after council passed a proposal to spend $ 11,000 to send a police officer to a training seminar in Florida.