On May 29, as described by Des Register reporter Andrea Sahouri, “a peaceful protest” “devolved into a violent melee that spread through the East Village.” Eighteen were arrested, as reported by the Register, and “participants in the unrest broke windows at Hilltop Tire Service and Embassy Suites, among other nearby buildings.”
The next morning, Assistant Iowa Attorney General Sharon Wegner took to Facebook:
Later, Wegner, who works for an office that is charged with enforcing the laws of the State of Iowa, offered her legal advice and assistance to those who had been arrested:
In the days that followed the riot, activists who supported and participated in the peaceful protests joined Governor Reynolds, Mayor Cownie, and Des Moines Police Chief Dana Wingert on the steps of the Capitol to show their support for one another, to discourage the “unrest” that broke out on May 29, and to urge peaceful protests.
Meanwhile, a lawyer with the Attorney General’s office, which is responsible for enforcing the laws, including those against disorderly conduct, offered free legal advice to those who caused the unrest.
Iowa Code specifically prohibits Assistant Attorneys General from practicing criminal defense law while they work for the state. Although Wenger is not representing these individuals in court, she offers free legal advice to them and their lawyers.
Iowa Field Report has learned that many county attorneys are concerned with what they see coming from Tom Miller’s office. Instead of being supported by Iowa’s top prosecutor, they feel undermined by attacks on social media. County attorneys and many other Iowans are waiting to learn what Miller is going to do about it. Will he clean up his office, or will he let his people undermine law enforcement on social media?
The controversy about social media posts comes as Miller was seemingly moving past the efforts of the Iowa Legislature to rein in the overly political Attorney General, who had joined Iowa to several lawsuits challenging actions by the Trump administration. In 2019, the legislature added an appropriations rider that prevented Miller from joining those lawsuits. Gov. Reynolds vetoed the measure, but only after Miller promised that he wouldn’t join national lawsuits without her permission.
Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller’s office refused to comment on this story.
Of note: a reader emailed with the following comment: “this is particularly bad for two reasons. One, she works in a unit that defends the State of Iowa in court from tort lawsuits. The Iowa State Patrol was working with the Des Moines Police Department and others to stop the violence. Her job is to defend her client in court but she is on Facebook basically calling for them to be sued. Two, she has a duty of loyalty to her client – she just called her client’s charge against these individuals “bullshit.””