Pro-choice protesters display signs to passing drivers June 24 near the federal courthouse in downtown Cedar Rapids. A Swisher man, facing two misdemeanor charges for driving his truck through protesters crossing the street, is asking that his trial be moved out of Linn County because of pretrial publicity. (Nick Rohlman/The Gazette)
CEDAR RAPIDS — A Swisher man, accused of driving his pickup into a group of abortion protesters in June, asked a judge Monday to move his trial out of Linn County because of “overt media attention and nefarious allegations” that he had a motive regarding abortion rights.
The June 24 protest near the federal courthouse in downtown Cedar Rapids followed the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that overturned abortion rights, which had been in place almost 50 years nationally, returning control of the procedure to the states.
Mark Brown, the lawyer for David A. Huston, 53, who faces two misdemeanor charges, said there has been extensive media coverage — including on national platforms — of the charges against Huston.
Brown said he found 75 to 80 separate news articles regarding the incident by searching under Huston’s name and the charges he faces. The media reports turned the encounter into an “alleged abortion issue” and used “inciteful language,” such as “ramming, plowing or running into” the protesters.
“That’s not what happened,” Brown said.
He argued the people who could be called as witnesses at Huston’s trial include community leaders who may know many potential jurors, who could be influenced by those witnesses, making it difficult for Huston to have a fair and impartial trial.
The trial information, he said, lists as possible witnesses Amara Andrews, who ran for Cedar Rapids mayor, Linn County Supervisor Stacey Walker; Cedar Rapids City Council member Ashley Vanorny and Linn County Attorney Nick Maybanks.
As a potential witness, Maybanks referred the case to Black Hawk County Attorney Brian Williams, who charged Huston with assault by use or display of a dangerous weapon — vehicle, an aggravated misdemeanor; and leaving the scene of a personal injury accident.
Brown said the prosecution will argue there hasn’t been any recent media reports on the incident, but “gasoline can sit for five months and it’s still inflammable.”
Brown also asked 6th Judicial Associate District Judge Angie Johnston to dismiss the charge of assault while displaying a dangerous weapon as a “legal impossibility.”
According to Iowa law, a dangerous weapon is any device or instrument designed primarily for use in inflicting death or injury. Brown argued the minutes of testimony and trial information don’t support the charge.
Assistant Black Hawk County Attorney Heather Jackson argued someone can be killed or injured by a vehicle. A driver can’t operate a vehicle in a “reckless manner on the roadway.”
Huston, she said, was driving a Ford F-150 pickup, which is considered a dangerous weapon when used as it was. “He intended to create a situation that was alarming” to the protesters, Jackson said.
Jackson, arguing against moving the trial out of Linn County, said selecting a fair and impartial jury was possible in Linn County by doing extensive questioning during jury selection.
Many of the social media comments attached to news reports about the incident, Jackson said, opposed the protesters, questioned why any charges were filed and criticized protesters for being in the roadway.
Jackson said if the judge decides to move the trial, Brown shouldn’t get to “cherry pick” the location. The trial should be moved to a “similarly situated” county in regard to demographics and population, she said, suggesting Black Hawk County would fit the criteria better than a smaller rural county within the district.
According to a criminal complaint, when protesters crossed Second Street SE, Huston approached them and struck one person with his truck, causing injury, and then left the scene.
Williams, the Black Hawk County attorney, said there wasn’t any evidence to show the incident was “politically motivated” or any evidence that the protesters were aggressive in any way toward any member of the public.
There is video of the incident, which Johnston, the judge, will review, along with the minutes of testimony, before making a ruling on the change of venue and motion to dismiss.
Johnston said she would have the ruling by the next pretrial hearing, scheduled for Dec. 14.