i9 Fact Checker: Iowa GOP ad misleads voters on sheriff’s role in Iowa City protests

Published: Oct. 5, 2020 at 8:03 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - Black Lives Matter protests in Iowa City are fodder for a political ad in a statehouse race, partly because of one of the candidate’s vying for the seat.

Johnson County Sheriff Lonnie Pulkrabek is challenging Republican incumbent Bobby Kaufman in House District 73 in Johnson and Cedar Counties. Our Fact Check team looked into the ad from Iowa Republicans.

CLAIM: "Lonny Pulkrabek allowed rioters and looters to deface Kinnick Stadium. As Sheriff, Lonny Pulkrabek did nothing to stop protesters from spray painting vulgar messages like “F the police” and “all cops are bastards” on Kinnick Stadium.

SOURCE: TV Ad titled “Saying” from the Republican Party of Iowa and Rep. Bobby Kaufmann against Democratic Challenger Lonny Pulkrabek in House District 73.

ANALYSIS: In an ad decrying misleading attacks, these claims are presented in a fake newscast format with a made-up “Iowa News” graphic that even resembles the branding of a local TV outlet. The video of rioters clashing with Police is also not from Johnson County; at least one of the video clips appears to be of protests in Des Moines.

The substance of the ad centers on Pulkrabek’s response to social justice demonstrations in Iowa City following the death of George Floyd while in the custody of Minneapolis police officers. The ad refers to the demonstrators as both rioters and protesters interchangeably.

During the protests, some people spray-painted graffiti and vandalized businesses and vehicles in and around the Iowa City and University of Iowa area. In one incident, the protest marched past the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital and Kinnick Stadium and left spray-painted messages degrading police and the University for racial injustices.

Law enforcement, including the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office, took defensive positions to protect public safety. Several times, law enforcement in riot gear blocked protesters and, in one controversial instance, fired tear gas to break up the crowd. Johnson County Sheriff’s Deputies were part of that joint tactical response.

The Johnson County Sheriff’s Office said it specifically had deputies assigned to protect county employees and buildings, like the Johnson County Courthouse. Spokesperson Sgt. Brad Kunkel, who is running to replace Pulkrabek as Sheriff, said deputies have since made several arrests of protesters involved in the acts of vandalism.

The Johnson County Sheriff’s Office did not patrol around Kinnick Stadium the night of the vandalism there because that area falls primarily under the jurisdiction of the University of Iowa Police and Iowa City Police. That’s important because the investigation into spray-painting would have fallen to those agencies, not the sheriff’s office.

CONCLUSION: This one is bad on multiple fronts. First, it uses misleading tactics like fake news graphics and video from other riots to misrepresent what happened with Iowa City’s protests. In terms of the substance, Pulkrabek did act in response to the vandalism: deploying deputies as part of a joint tactical response, protecting county property, and arrested protesters (in fact, this is one of the demands of protesters to drop those charges). Finally, what happened specifically at Kinnick Stadium is not in Sheriff Pulkrabek’s jurisdiction to investigate.

All of that is why this ad gets an F.

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