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Neighbors Growing Together | Dec 14, 2017

Jury deliberating in trial of Waterloo man accused of threatening Sen. Joni Ernst

Nov 22, 2017

CEDAR RAPIDS — Federal Bureau of Investigation agents testified Tuesday that a Waterloo man admitted to sending three tweets “that could be perceived as threatening” to U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst in August.

Special Agent Thomas Reinwart testified in U.S. District Court that he and another agent interviewed Joseph H. Dierks outside his workplace, Sub City, in Waterloo, on Aug. 18. Dierks admitted to agents he sent the three tweets over Twitter to one of Ernst’s accounts on Aug. 16.

Reinwart and another agent said Dierks told them he wanted to get her attention because he wanted her help to join the military.

Because of his age, 34, he would need a waiver from a higher-ranked officer — like Ernst, who is a retired lieutenant colonel from the Iowa Army National Guard.

Dierks is charged with three counts of transmitting a communication containing a threat in interstate commerce. The criminal complaint shows Dierks sent the tweets to Ernst and admitted he knew they would be viewed as threatening.

If convicted, he faces up to five years on each count.

The trial started Tuesday and the prosecution wrapped up its case before the noon break. The defense only had a few witnesses and the jurors started deliberations about 3:30 p.m. but didn’t reach a verdict.

The jury will resume deliberations at 9 a.m. Wednesday.

Reinwart said Dierks told him Ernst hadn’t responded to his other tweets and that’s when he sent the “threatening” tweets.

Jurors were shown examples of the tweets that use expletives and in which Ernst is told physical harm will be done to her.

FBI Special Agent Scott Irwin testified that during the investigation he looked to see if Dierks had any previous convictions and found he was convicted in 2016 of second-degree harassment in Black Hawk County District Court. According to court records, he threatened bodily injury to another man, Irwin said.

Dierks was warned to stop sending tweets to Ernst before the FBI got involved and the charges were filed, Waterloo police officer Rhonda Weber testified. She said the department was first contacted by U.S. Capital Police in Washington, D.C., about previous tweets and she went to Dierks’ home on Aug. 15.

Weber said Dierks admitted sending tweets and also told her about trying to get Ernst’s attention to help with a waiver for the military. Weber told him to stop sending the tweets or he could face criminal charges. Dierks “thanked me for bringing it to his attention” and he said he would “tone it down.”

Early the next morning, about 4 a.m., Dierks then sent the three threatening tweets, according to testimony.

Christopher Nathan, Dierks’ lawyer, said during his opening statement that the evidence will show that his client didn’t intend for the tweets to be threatening and he didn’t know they would be viewed as threatening.

Nathan asked the jurors to use their “life experiences” to determine if the prosecution has proved its case after all the evidence comes in. Prosecutors must prove more than Dierks just sending offensive tweets, he noted.

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