Removal of pandit Tuesday near Fairfield leads to riot
By ANDY HALLMAN
Golden Triangle News Service
FAIRFIELD — A group of pandits at the pandit campus near Vedic City attacked Jefferson County Sheriff Gregg Morton Tuesday morning by throwing rocks through the windows in his vehicle and rocking the vehicle back and forth.
According to a press release from the Jefferson County Attorney’s Office, about 70-80 pandits surrounded Morton while he was in his marked patrol pickup and threw rocks at him and at the back window, breaking the window. The group attempted to break off the vehicle’s mirrors, kicked out a back light in the vehicle and rocked the vehicle. Morton was able to back away from the crowd and call for assistance.
The press release indicated that neither Morton nor any other responding officers were injured during the incident.
After the patrol car began to back away, the group members continued to walk east on 170th Street and picked up rocks and debris, which they threw at the sheriff’s vehicle. Pandit personnel were able to stop the group about one-quarter to one-half mile from the pandit campus and, after some time, were able to walk the group back to the campus.
Law enforcement agencies stayed close to the entrance of the property on 170th Street to contain the group if it did come back onto the roadway. All units were able to go back into service at about 10 a.m.
The Fairfield Ledger news editor drove by the pandit campus at approximately 11:30 a.m. and saw a group of at least 50 people crowding on 170th Street, blocking the road, near the gate to the campus. The group motioned with their hands for him to continue traveling west on 170th and to turn south onto Iris Avenue. No law enforcement vehicles were visible at the scene at that time. A few minutes later, the group of people began walking toward the pandit campus.
Morton said today no charges are pending against any of the pandits because he could not identify who threw the rocks through his squad car.
Morton said he jumped into his truck when the group approached him. He said he was scared but he never feared for his life. He said he had never experienced being in the center of a riot like that.
He said all law enforcement at the scene showed great restraint in the way they handled the situation. He said the behavior of the group of pandits at the scene was totally unacceptable.
“We won’t tolerate that,” he said. “That’s not normal human behavior. That shows no respect for the law, and that’s what scares me.”
The incident began at about 6 a.m. when the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office was contacted by personnel of the pandit campus to assist them since a pandit leader was being escorted off the property and the security personnel were worried that would cause problems. The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office responded to ensure the safety of all involved.
About 60-70 pandits had gathered on the property before the pandit leader was to enter a van to leave the property. According to the press release, this group became increasingly agitated and threw rocks at pandit security and sheriff’s office personnel. The pandit leader was loaded in the van and as the van was leaving the area, a larger group of pandits ran toward the front gate, trying to stop the van from leaving. The van was able to exit the property without being stopped by the large group.
The large group then knocked down a gate that adjoins 170th street and started walking east on 170th Street, blocking the whole street. The sheriff’s personnel attempted to divert the large group back onto the pandit complex but were unable to do so.
“As an officer, you get training in riot control, but this was not a riot at first,” Morton said. “It escalated into a riot as things progressed. If it was a mob on the street, there are certain procedures we do to engage the situation, and I didn’t have a chance to do those. I kept my distance, and they picked up chunks of asphalt and threw them at my truck.”
Morton said the pandits are among the last people he would expect to behave this way. He said relations between law enforcement and the pandits have been mostly good, and that he did not believe a pandit had ever been arrested before.
Assistance was provided by the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Reserve, Fairfield Police Department, Iowa State Patrol, Iowa Department of Transportation Vehicle Enforcement, Iowa DNR law enforcement, Wapello County Sheriff’s Office and the Fairfield Fire Department.