A member of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement has been charged with simple assault in connection with a confrontation with a Republican lawmaker inside the state capitol.
Captain Mark Logsdon, head of the Iowa Capitol Police unit, says members of the group surrounded Representative Greg Forristall to talk about a bill that failed to pass the House Labor Committee.
“Unfortunately it sounds like it was more of a bad confrontation,” Logsdon said this afternoon. “Very loud, very disrespectful, very difficult and I think Representative Forristall felt very threatened.”
Logsdon said Forristall unsuccessfully tried to get onto an elevator to escape the group, then the legislator sought refuge in a private office nearby and that’s when CCI member Joe Fagan allegedly tried to pull Forristall back into the public area of the capitol.
“(Forristall) was able to break free and physically had to push the door as hard as he could to get it shut,” Logsdon saod, “so it was very alarming to him.”
Groups like CCI have “a right to be passionate” about issues, according to Logsdon, but he said the kind of behavior described by Forristall and other witnesses indicate this incident “crosses the line.”
“Those tactics have the tendency sometimes to be counterproductive and the same legislators that they might want to see action on some bills or inaction — depending on what the bill is, it actually works just to the opposite,” Logsdon said.
Logsdon interviewed Forristall and a handful of witnesses who confirmed Forristall’s allegations. Adam Mason, a spokesman for Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, told Radio Iowa the group has a videotape which refutes Forristall’s account.
“We stand by the fact that at no point did Joe Fagan or any other CCI Action Fund member touch or assault Representative Forristall,” said Mason, who declined to share the video with Radio Iowa.
Fagan is due in court on March 20.
“We will be fighting these charges tooth and nail,” Mason said. “We believe that when Joe Fagan has his day in court, the evidence will side with us.”
This is not the first time Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement has grabbed the spotlight with its protests. The group had a widely-reported verbal confrontation with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney at the state fair. A few days later members of the group confronted the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee during her visit to the state fair, prompting the Iowa Democratic Party’s chairwoman to denounce the tactics used by Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement. Mason defended this latest incident as the group’s attempt to bring attention to an issue.
“This isn’t about Representative Forristall as a person,” Mason said. “This is about Representative Forristall as chair of the Labor Committee.”
The group faults the Republican for failing to allow committee debate of a bill Democrats in the Iowa Senate passed that deals with “wage theft.”