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Iowa Supreme Court says it’s a hate crime to leave mean notes on LGBTQ homes

The apparent rage inside Robert Clark Geddes compelled him to place mean notes urging Iowans to "burn that gay flag" and now he's known for committing hate crimes. One note warned of HIV/AIDS and said an orgy had been canceled.
Iowa Supreme Court

DES MOINES – An Iowa man who took it upon himself to place mean notes on homes flying LGBTQ flags found out this week from the state Supreme Court that this activity is a bonafide hate crime.

According to a document from the Iowa Supreme Court, “In recent years, in our country, the rainbow flag has come to symbolize support for LGBTQ+ rights. Several individuals in Boone displayed that flag or a decal of it on the front of their properties. Another person entered their premises without permission and taped anonymous notes to the doors urging, “Burn that gay flag.” This individual was later found out and convicted of trespass as a hate crime.”

The apparent rage inside Robert Clark Geddes compelled him to place notes urging Iowans to “burn that gay flag” and now he’s known for committing hate crimes. Geddes argued that the notes are his First Amendment right to free speech and his arrest violated his rights.

Howwever, the court disagreed, writing, “We disagree. The statute in question does not criminalize speech, but rather conduct with a specific intent—namely, trespassing on property because of the property owner or possessor’s association with persons of a certain sexual orientation. The individuals’ display of the LGBTQ+ flag or flag decal on their own properties was an exercise of First Amendment rights; the defendant’s surreptitious entry onto those properties to post his harassing notes was not. For these reasons, and because we are not persuaded by the defendant’s other appellate arguments that would require us to construe the hate crime statute implausibly or to overturn a soundly reasoned forty-year-old precedent, we affirm the defendant’s convictions and sentence.”

IOWA CODE: VIOLATION OF INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS — HATE CRIMES, §729A.5

Court records spell out these incidents:

In June 2021, renters and homeowners who displayed LGBTQ+ Pride flags or decals in Boone began receiving handwritten notes taped on their front doors. The first note, discovered on June 16 and shaped like a warning sign, said, “Warning due to high levels of flaggotry an investigation has been launched to control the spread of HIV/AIDS. We are sad to say the bare back orgy has been canceled. Burn that gay flag.” The renters, who displayed an LGBTQ+ Pride flag or decal on their premises, contacted the Boone Chief of Police about the note and filed a police report. They specifically asked for information on whether the Boone Police Department “keep[s] track of crimes against LGBTQ people within the City of Boone” and “how many incidents against LGBTQ people have been reported to the Boone Police so far in 2021 and in each of the past five years.”

On June 19, four additional notes were located, omitting the opening words and stating simply, “Burn that gay flag.” The notes had the same handwriting. The recipients reported that they found the notes to be “alarming, annoying, and/or threatening.”

Video surveillance footage at some of the homes revealed a man approaching with a piece of paper in his hand and leaving a short time later. Based on the surveillance, Robert Geddes was identified as the individual. Geddes did not have prior permission to enter any of the five properties.

Geddes was initially charged by trial information with five counts of trespass as a hate crime, a serious misdemeanor, in violation of Iowa Code sections 716.7 and 716.8(3), and by complaint with five counts of harassment in the third degree, a simple misdemeanor, in violation of Iowa Code section 708.7(4).

Geddes waived his right to a jury trial and agreed to a trial on the minutes; in return, the State dropped the simple misdemeanor harassment charges and agreed to recommend probation. The court found Geddes guilty on all counts. Geddes was sentenced to five consecutive one-year terms with credit for time served; the jail sentence was suspended and Geddes was placed on probation for a term not to exceed two years and fined the minimum amount. Geddes appealed, and the Supreme Court retained the appeal.

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