by Sondra Wilson. Updated 12/25/2022.
This part of the series of injustices in Iowa is continued from the article “Transgender Iowan, arrested for going in the women’s restroom in 2006, still seeks justice“. Please read that first.
i. Hostile Responses:
In 2009, three years after the restroom incident, again I came to visit friends and family in Ames, Iowa (where I am from).
At that time in my life, I regularly street performed with my guitar and gathered petition signatures for various petitions. The petition I promoted during this visit was modeled after California’s Prop 2 which had passed earlier that year and which I’d gathered signatures for while living there – designed to increase animal cage sizes to prevent things like battery cages.
Unexpectedly (to me), this petition drew angry and condescending responses from several people at various times. Although I meant no harm in writing it, it was not received well. This is what happened in this instance where I was falsely accused of assault. This story, however, goes much deeper than that – and involves the same just from the previous case.
ii. Falsely Accused of assaulting a Manager
at the Culver’s restaurant
While passing by the Culver’s parking lot, I engaged a couple with regard to my petition. The wife seemed interested so we walked and talked about it on our way into the restaurant. Shortly thereafter, however, her husband turned around and began yelling at me, “Plants die all the time!” I told him we weren’t talking about plants, and he raised his voice louder to shout me down.
Feeling disrespected, I sat on the table and began to play a fairly hardcore song I had written the year before – on May 25 – called Night of the Stock Market Crash. Although I realize a restaurant wasn’t the best place to play this song, it was a form of nonviolent activism.
Soon after (just as the song was getting good), a manager approached and grabbed the neck of my guitar, pulling on it and telling me to leave. I pulled away and said, “The animals have no voice in this society. I’m going to give them three minutes then I’ll leave.” I strummed the next chord, and again she grabbed the neck of the guitar. Again I pulled away, stood up, and yelled how messed up this society is. I left.
A block away, Officer Morton arrested me. While I assumed it was for trespassing, he informed me that it was actually for assault. He told me that the manager of Culver’s reported that I began “pushing and kicking her” after she asked me to leave. This of course was very concerning to me.
I filled out this voluntary statement wherein I stated what actually happened, then plead not guilty at the arraignment. I was unable to find legal assistance prior to the trial, so I ended up representing myself pro se.
iii. Conflicting Testimonies:
The same judge who directed Officer Marshall to arrest me for going into the restroom – Steven Van Marel – also judged this assault charge case three years later. However, at the time of the trial I did not know he had ordered Officer Marshall to arrest me back then – or I would have asked him to recuse himself. In my opinion, he should have recused himself. As you will see below, this will turn out to be an unjust trial.
Four witnesses attended the trial. The Culver’s manager brought two witnesses, Officer Morton testified, and a character witness testified on my behalf.
Everyone testified separately, and I was given the opportunity to cross examine each of them:
The manager and her two witnesses gave three different testimonies: one of them told the truth and said I did not touch her. One of them said I kicked her three times hard, and the manager said I kicked her once but not very hard.
The officer testified that I was compliant and calm, and that I wasn’t aware I was being arrested for assault.
The woman who served as my character witness had hitchhiked and street performed with me on several occasions. She testified that sometimes people get upset about what I stand for and that they lash out, but that I would absolutely not resort to violence. I am definitely a hippie. Pic of me from 2009:
iv. An Unjust Ruling:
Even though the burden of proof for criminal cases requires charges to be proved “beyond a reasonable doubt”, Judge Van Marel’s ruling was a reach. Remember that the manager and her two witnesses gave conflicting testimonies: one witness said I kicked her three times hard (pretty sure he just didn’t like me), one said I didn’t touch her, and she said I kicked her one time softly. Van Marel ruled that “the court believes you kicked her three times, she forgot about two of them, and the other witness didn’t see it (even though he claimed he saw everything clearly and he was “sure” I didn’t touch her).
v. Warned by an officer to “leave the state”:
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During the trial, however, I was not aware he had ordered Officer Marshall to arrest me. I believe his decision against me – which did not align with the testimonies or facts presented – was an abuse of discretion. Judge Van Marel shouldn’t have even judged this case: it was inappropriate and unprofessional for him not to have recused himself, and based on what I found out after the trial – I firmly believe his decision against me was retaliatory.
It was not until November 4 this year (2022), however – when I ordered a copy of the docket and of the police report for both these cases – that I learned he was involved in both cases! As you will see below, Judge Van Marel’s determination for the assault case was unfair: his determination did not align with the fact and he stuck me with this politically-damaging charge attached to my record which still adversely affects my life today.
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I would have picked up the dockets sooner, however I didn’t know what a docket was back in 2009 because they didn’t teach us even the basics of law in back in high school.
As you will see, his ruling did not align with the facts and instead harmed me. I was falsely accused of a crime, and although evidence strongly indicated I was innocent, he found me guilty. His decision against me was an abuse of discretion.
Judge Van Marel had never been held accountable for this because I didn’t know how to report him nor did I know who to report him to. Instead I left Iowa because an officer approached me after the trial and told me he had reason to believe my life was in danger. Now I am back (in Iowa) with more legal knowledge than I had, and I am currently pursuing justice for these cases. There are are a total of four related charges which need to be stricken from my record. I am currently seeking an attorney.
It was inappropriate and unprofessional for him to judge not to recuse himself.
iv. An Unjust Trial:
Four witnesses attended the trial. The Culver’s manager brought two witnesses, Officer John 1 testified, and a character witness testified on my behalf.
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after the trial Officer John 1 met me in the hallway downstairs, telling me that “off the record” he was concerned for my safety. He warned me to leave the state. I believe Van Marel’s 2009 ruling against me was an abuse of discretion; read the full story here:
About the Involved Parties:
Names of the following individuals are omitted to protect them from unwanted questioning or harassment.
Officer John 1 – an officer of the Ames PD.
Although today I know this was not an culturally appropriate thing for me to do, frankly I was frustrated and traumatized from a lot of stress I had endured while living on the streets.