A 22-year-old Newton man was criticizing the city government and the local police department during the citizen participation portion of the council meeting on Oct. 3 when we was cut off by the mayor, asked to leave and when he refused was arrested by the police chief for disorderly conduct.
Noah Petersen called for the city to defund the Newton Police Department, saying it is a “violent, civil and human rights violating organization” that does not make the community safer. He also claimed the department is “pro-domestic abuse” for employing a domestic abuser.
Newton Mayor Mike Hansen slammed his gavel and said Petersen was out of order. Despite Petersen’s protests, Hansen called on Newton Police Chief Rob Burdess to escort him from the council chambers inside city hall. Hansen said Petersen was violating the rules of the city council meeting.
“You are violating the United States Constitution,” Petersen said.
At every council meeting, the mayor allows citizens to address the council on matters included in the consent agenda or a matter that is not on the regular agenda. When recognized by the mayor, each person is given three minutes to speak. Others already spoke before Petersen and were held to the time limit.
However, Petersen had only spoke for a minute before the mayor cut him off. The police chief approached the podium and tried to get Petersen to leave. Petersen refused and said he would speak for his three minutes. The mayor said his three minutes had ceased and that he violated the rules.
The city requires comments or questions during citizen participation must be related to city policies or the provision of city services and shall not include derogatory statements or comments about any individual. Petersen’s comments referenced a specific officer but did not outwardly call the officer by name.
“I have a right to criticize the government if I want to criticize the government,” Petersen said. “You are violating the First Amendment.”
Burdess reiterated to Petersen that he was told to leave. When Petersen said he would not leave, Burdess asked him if he wanted to be arrested.
“Sure, arrest me then,” Petersen said. “Arrest me for speaking my First Amendment rights. Go ahead. You should be ashamed of yourselves.”
Petersen was escorted quietly into the atrium of city hall, where Burdess patted him down in a search for weapons, drugs and paraphernalia, finding nothing. Petersen was then charged with disorderly conduct and transported to Jasper County Jail.
POLICE DEPARTMENT ISSUES PRESS RELEASE ON INCIDENT
Newton News reached out to Burdess and the city administrator for comment and was given a press release about the incident.
The police department alleged Petersen was speaking in a manner that was deemed to be in violation of the stated rules for citizen participation. Newton police said Petersen became disruptive and refused several directives by law enforcement to leave the podium as directed by the mayor.
At the meeting, Petersen was reading from a prepared statement on the Notes app of his phone. He later shared the full statement on social media, where he tells city council to reallocate funds from the police department to a number of other areas that he says will “actually help people.”
Petersen’s statement recommended the funds be used to aid people with substance abuse issues and create an “actually viable public transportation system.” He also told council to give money to a different organization that deals with traffic infractions “instead of an armed paramilitary.”
Funds should also be used, he added, to deal with the housing crisis “by creating a robust public housing program for the poor and working class.”
PETERSEN MADE PREVIOUS APPEARANCES AT COUNCIL MEETINGS
This most recent council meeting was not the first time Petersen tried to share his criticisms of the city and police department.
At the Sept. 6 council meeting, he read from the same statement during a resolution approving the design and construction of a park project and a resolution amending the contract with Teamsters Local 120. The mayor ordered Newton Police Lt. Chris Wing to remove Petersen from the chambers.
Petersen believes it was wrong for the police chief to arrest him. The city did not want to hear his criticism, he said.
“They actually let one person speak over the three-minute period. There was no cut off. There was no telling him to stop speaking. There was no cops involved. Rightfully so,” Petersen said. “I think that is the correct approach. People speaking at public meetings should not have cops involved and be cut off.”
MORE BACKGROUND ON PETERSEN’S CLAIMS
In a follow-up interview with Newton News, Petersen said if given the chance to finish his statement he would have expanded on a few other points in addition to his comments about the department supporting domestic abuse. This comment in particular was referring to the specific officer, Officer Nathan Winters — whose background was called into question online after he arrested 19-year-old Tay Galanakis in late August for driving impaired, only for him to blow a 0.00 on a breathalyzer and pass further drug inspection tests — has a protective/no-contact order placed on him.
The order was put in place because of a civil domestic abuse case with Winter’s former girlfriend. However, the order has an added stipulation, agreed upon by the former girlfriend, that allows Winters to conduct official police business. The order has since been extended and is still in place.
Contact Christopher Braunschweig at 641-792-3121 ext 560 or at email@example.com