This story was republished from the Iowa Capital Dispatch. See the original story here.

The former Van Buren County prosecutor removed from office for what the Iowa Supreme Court called “shocking” displays of sexual harassment has pleaded guilty to reduced criminal charges stemming from an altercation in Des Moines last summer.

Former Van Buren County Attorney Abraham Watkins was arrested the afternoon of Aug. 30, 2020, on Court Avenue in Des Moines. According to police records, Watkins, 44, was skateboarding in the area shortly before he and another individual began arguing.

Police records indicate Watkins threw his skateboard through the rear window of the other individual’s car. He was charged with criminal mischief in the fourth degree, a serious misdemeanor.

Earlier this month, with the case still pending, Watkins’ attorney filed court papers indicating Polk County prosecutors had offered to reduce the charge to a simple misdemeanor with a maximum fine of $85 and the issuance of a no-contact order. Watkins’ attorney reported to the court that she countered by asking that all charges be dismissed in return for Watkins completing a class on assaultive behavior and agreeing to pay restitution.

This week, Watkins and Polk County prosecutors agreed that Watkins would plead guilty to disorderly conduct with abusive epithets and threatening gestures, and pay a fine of $855, plus damages in an amount that had yet to be determined at the time of sentencing.

The court accepted the plea agreement and Watkins was sentenced on Tuesday.

Polk County prosecutor Thomas Tolbert declined to comment on either the plea deal that was offered to Watkins or the final disposition of the case. “I’m not willing to give you any information regarding any of the plea agreements or any of the negotiations that I had with his attorney,” he said.

Watkins was elected Van Buren’s county attorney in 2014. In 2015, the Van Buren County Board of Supervisors investigated allegations of sexual harassment against Watkins and the county subsequently filed a court petition successfully seeking Watkins’ removal from office. Watkins was reinstated after he successfully appealed his removal, but he lost his 2018 bid for re-election.

In 2020, the Iowa Supreme Court suspended Watkins’ license for a minimum of six months, saying he had sought to minimize his “shocking” conduct while arguing that he didn’t realize his actions were inappropriate since they pre-dated the #MeToo movement.

“Perhaps Watkins only recently figured out that his behavior is repugnant, but sexual harassment has existed for centuries,” the court stated in its decision. “Frankly, one need not have any legal training to know, for example, that you should not show your female employee a picture of your wife’s vagina as Watkins did.”

Recently, the Iowa Supreme Court’s Office of Professional Regulation filed a notice with the court certifying that Watkins does not meet the requirements necessary for reinstatement of his law license as he has not paid fees and other costs associated with the Grievance Commission’s investigation of his actions.


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