Iowa DNR Officers’ Actions Under Investigation After Court Avenue Arrests

DES MOINES, Iowa -- Arrests at Court Avenue last week have left those in the Des Moines Police Department scratching their heads.

"It`s certainly unusual to see this," said Des Moines Police Sgt. Paul Parizek.

When an altercation between a 27-year-old black woman named Latisha Johnson and a 19-year-old white woman named Kathryn Kesler broke out at 2nd Avenue and Court Avenue late last Thursday night, two Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) conservation officers rushed to the scene.

Latisha Johnson and Kathryn Kesler (WHO-HD)

Parizek said, "Any time there is someone working in our city, there are deconfliction meetings so we know they are here, and we provide the same courtesy to others when we travel into their territory."

Des Moines police say that was not the case, and cell phone video from that night shows the DNR conservation officers, who identified themselves as police, breaking up the fight.  Court records identify Travis Graves as the conservation officer giving Johnson two elbow blows to the head while she continued to grab the hair of Kesler.

"They weren`t down there to supplement our patrol in any way. I don`t believe they were hired off duty by any of the businesses down there," said Parizek.

In the video, Johnson is then pepper-sprayed by Graves in the face and Kesler appears to be allowed to walk away.  While both were booked into the Polk County Jail and later released, the two DNR conservation officers were placed on paid administrative leave Friday.

The Iowa DNR released a statement that read:

"There are many questions left to be answered and we are working with the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation to conduct a full, fair, and thorough investigation into the matter."

It is a matter Des Moines police continue to question as well.  "At this point, as far as our organization, we really don`t know what they were doing down there," Parizek said.

Both women were charged with public intoxication and disorderly conduct. Only Johnson faces charges of interfering with official acts.

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