Sioux Falls Police arrest six after unpermitted abortion-rights protest declared unlawful assembly
Smoke bombs and crowd control tactics were employed as protesters took to the streets in an unpermitted protest that police say challenged their ability to keep everyone safe.
SIOUX FALLS — Police in Sioux Falls declared an unlawful assembly and arrested six Wednesday night after a group of protesters marching against the Supreme Court’s recent overturn of Roe v. Wade turned disorderly.
The protest began in downtown Sioux Falls at approximately 7 p.m., when about 300 protesters gathered at Lyon Park, to the south of the city’s downtown district, began marching north along Phillips Avenue.
According to Sioux Falls Police Chief Jon Thum, the demonstration was an unpermitted protest of which word spread primarily through text and private messages. Event organizers had not informed police of their intentions, which left police scrambling to secure a safe area for protesters to walk.
“With the Roe v. Wade decision, there’s really strong emotions on either side, and with issues like that, we have to make sure the protesters are protected, that we have a clear plan, medical in place and that we had the right amount of assets to deal with it. It’s helpful for a variety of safety reasons,” Thum said. “We were told by who we could contact that they weren't interested in getting a permit or providing any plans as to what was going to happen.”
Knowing an event would take place, but not knowing what the event would look like, police provided officers to the area as a safety measure. As protesters took to Phillips Avenue, officers worked ahead to block traffic and create a safe route of passage. Some demonstrators began to deviate from the sidewalks.
After protesters walked roughly one mile north on Phillips Avenue, Thum said the group made a U-turn, creating confusion among protesters.
“We made a decision to shut down Phillips Avenue and facilitate this big group of people to transport back [to the park]. As it moved up Phillips, some people continued up Phillips, some gathered and sat down in the street,” Thum said. “We wanted to give this time and allow people to say what they needed to say, but also we needed to get them going because we’re blocking off streets.”
As the group continued moving toward Lyon Park, Thum said the group began deviating from Phillips Avenue, leaving police unsure of which streets to block.
As protesters began spilling into 14th Street and Minnesota Avenue, two busier thoroughfares that run past the southern edge of downtown, police began introducing crowd control tactics, including officers in riot gear and using squad cars to attempt to funnel protesters. Thum said that was unsuccessful.
“From there, the crowd moved through downtown again, through 14th Street. We were trying to get them back to Lyons Park, because that’s where their cars were,” Thum said. “That’s kind of where we came to a stalemate.”
Many in the relatively young crowd were wearing an item of red clothing. Some were carrying signs. They alternated between chanting "my body, my choice" and "F— Kristi Noem" referring to the state's stridently anti-abortion Republican governor.
After declaring the gathering an unlawful assembly, police began reading a dispersal notice, required under state law, warning demonstrators that failure to comply could result in the use of chemical agents.
“We did our best to facilitate this unpermitted protest so people could exercise their First Amendment rights,” Thum said. “We made every attempt to give the dispersal order.”
A standoff ensued, and while most protesters cleared the streets, one small group remained seated on the pavement.
As the scene on 14th Street began to clear out, other protesters headed back downtown. A crowd of about 100 protesters marched back into the core of downtown, with riot police and police cars chasing and seeking to intercept. Every time police would show up in force the protesters would leave and turn a corner, walking swiftly away. "Tag you're it," one protester yelled at police.
Even as Thum prepared a 10 p.m. press conference, protesters had gathered outside City Hall, holding signs reading “Pro-Life is not pro life” and “stop the war on women.”
By 10:30 p.m., most had cleared from the streets of downtown Sioux Falls, though at least one road has remained closed to traffic as police straggled in the area.
In total, police arrested five adults and one juvenile in the unlawful assembly. They include:
- Jonathon Xavier Knorr, 19, of Sioux Falls. He was charged with simple assault on law enforcement, resisting arrest, obstructing law enforcement and disorderly conduct.
- Jacob Charles Stettnichs, 29, of Sioux Falls. He was charged with disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and obstructing law enforcement.
- Kendrea Angel Rose Marie Eagle, 22, of Sioux Falls. She was charged with disorderly conduct and failure to yield to an emergency vehicle.
- Mikaila Noel Middlen, 22, of Sioux Falls. She was charged with disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and obstructing law enforcement.
- Brandon Lee Parker, 22, of Sioux Falls. He was charged with disorderly conduct.
To avoid “having to walk back” comments, Thum declined to release how many arrests had been made. However, he made one point clear.
“A planned event is a safe event. An unplanned event can go a variety of ways. … With a lot of these situations, there's bad actors that infiltrate these and steer them different directions. There’s an increased liability of danger when we don’t know what the plan is,” Thum said. “Without having a plan, without knowing what the parameters are, not knowing who is involved, [ensuring public safety] is very, very difficult.”
Despite the challenges police faced Wednesday evening, Thum said law enforcement still wanted to ensure everyone’s rights are protected, and wants event organizers to work with police.
“Our primary concern with these events is that we're able to safely organize them and carry them out. Our responsibility as law enforcement is to respect their constitutional rights and help them carry that out,” Thum said. “We have a really tough time trying to protect people exercising their First Amendment rights when we don't know what their plan is.”
Thum noted additional details would be released at the department’s daily briefing at 10:30 a.m. Thursday.
Forum News Service's Jeremy Fugleberg contributed to this article.