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Iowa Police Officer Won't Get Qualified Immunity For Attacking Photographer At George Floyd Protest

A federal appeals court recently ruled that a police officer who arrested a photojournalist during a George Floyd protest in downtown Des Moines, Iowa, isn't entitled to qualified immunity for illegal seizure and excessive force. However, the court affirmed the dismissal of the journalist's First Amendment claim.

Mark "Ted" Nieters, an experienced international freelance photographer, was covering the protest in the spring of 2020 when he was tackled, pepper-sprayed, and arrested by Des Moines police officer Brandon Holtan for failure to disperse.

Nieters argued that he was far from the protest crowd clearly identified himself as a journalist with equipment and credentials, and wasn't within hearing range when the dispersal order was issued. The federal judge in Des Moines initially dismissed Nieters' claims based on qualified immunity, prompting Nieters to appeal to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals.

In its recent ruling, the appeals court reversed the trial court's decision on the illegal seizure and excessive force claims but upheld qualified immunity for the First Amendment claim. The court determined that Holtan had no arguable probable cause for arresting Nieters, even though he provided press credentials and identified himself as a journalist.

The court also found that Holtan was not protected by qualified immunity from Nieters' excessive force claim. When Holtan approached Nieters, the photographer had his hands in the air and made no attempt to flee, leading to the conclusion that the use of force may not have been justified.

This decision underscores the importance of challenging the prevailing culture of impunity among law enforcement personnel and signals that abusive conduct will not go unchecked.


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