Prison sentence for Iowa face mask fight raises questions about mandatory minimums

Jason Clayworth
·2 min read

A Des Moines man accused of starting a fight after being confronted over wearing his face mask incorrectly has been convicted of a felony and faces a mandatory 10 years in prison, as first reported by Iowa Capital Dispatch.

Why it matters: The case raises the question about whether the punishment fits the crime and could result in legislative action, Bob Rigg, a Drake University law professor told Axios.

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  • There have been national calls to reform mandatory minimum prison sentences for years, including in Iowa.

What happened: Shane Michael, 42, followed Mark Denning outside following a verbal exchange regarding Michael's incorrect mask-wearing inside a a DSM Vision 4 Less store in November, according to court testimony.

  • Michael then allegedly attacked, spit and coughed on Denning, yelling, "If I have it, you have it."

  • Denning said he was poked in the eye and kneed in the groin by Michael. He also said he almost lost the eye, but a doctor testified that he’ll fully recover.

The aftermath: Michael rejected a plea deal and was convicted this month of assault causing bodily injury, which carries a mandatory decade of prison time in Iowa.

  • The deal also would have wiped the case from his record after two years of probation. "He took a hell of a risk by taking this to a jury," Rigg said.

  • Michael will likely be eligible for a parole hearing within a year and could be released early, Rigg added.

What’s next: Sentencing is set for May 11.

This story first appeared in the Axios Des Moines newsletter, designed to help readers get smarter, faster on the most consequential news unfolding in their own backyard.

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