WATERLOO -- Two family members and a friend of a woman charged with first-degree murder in a weekend homicide are asking for police to drop the charge, saying she was acting in self defense.
A sister, an aunt who drove in from Milwaukee and a friend who flew from South Carolina were out in front of the Waterloo Police Department on a frigid Tuesday afternoon, holding signs, sounding a cowbell and demanding police "Free Lasondra Johnson" over a megaphone.
"There are witnesses on the block, and everything is being disregarded," said former Waterloo resident Brittany Martin, who now lives in Sumter, South Carolina. "I'm out here advocating today for her release so she can come home."
Martin, along with Johnson's aunt Latondra Young and Johnson's sister, Shaquita Lawrence, said they were not at the scene, but talked to Johnson and neighbors who witnessed the altercation.
They believe Iowa's "stand your ground law" should apply to Johnson, who they say is licensed to legally carry a concealed weapon and has no prior criminal record.
"If three people jump in your car and start to attack you, why would you not be able to shoot to defend yourself?" Martin said.
That law says a person may use deadly force to protect their life if they have a reasonable belief deadly force is necessary.
"She was literally attacked by three women," Martin said. "She was clearly justified."
Johnson has no prior criminal charges, and only one speeding ticket from Delaware County in 2015, according to online court records. Neither the Black Hawk County Sheriff's Office nor the Iowa Department of Public Safety immediately returned messages asking for verification of whether Johnson had a concealed carry permit.
Latondra Young, Johnson's aunt who lives in Milwaukee, said Johnson is a business owner who holds bachelor's and master's degrees, and said the attack was unprovoked.
The group says they're confident Johnson's innocence will be proven in court, but think it's unfair that Johnson -- who they said has "breathing issues" that coronavirus could exacerbate -- remains in the Black Hawk County Jail until then.
"What happened to this self-defense law?" Young said. "If a person fears for their life, they're supposed to be able to shoot."
Authorities allege Johnson, 36, shot and killed 27-year-old Jayda J. Young-Mills at a Dawson Street home.
According to court records and police statements, Young-Mills and Johnson were involved in a fight in front of the home around 12:10 a.m. Saturday. Others apparently broke up the altercation, and police say Johnson went to her vehicle and retrieved a handgun. She then pointed the gun at Young-Mills and fired, according to police.
Paramedics with Waterloo Fire Rescue found Young-Mills unconscious on the home’s living room floor. She was taken to UnityPoint-Health Allen Hospital, where she was later pronounced dead.
According to police, Johnson said she was being attacked by Young-Mills and others, and fired a warning shot into the air.
Martin, who said she is familiar with the intricacies of the justice system in Waterloo -- she was convicted in January of hitting her teenage son with a vehicle in 2019 and has not yet been sentenced -- said that experience made her want to "fight and stand for others" she believes are being unjustly treated.
"(Johnson) did not try to hurt (Young-Mills). She feels very bad. We all feel bad for the other family -- don't get us wrong, we send our love to them too," Martin said. "But we don't want to lose our loved one as well. This was senseless."
The group said they've spoken with Waterloo Mayor Quentin Hart as well as detectives investigating the case, and said they plan to protest at 2 p.m. "every day until Lasondra Johnson is free."
"Two sets of kids don't deserve to lose their parents," Martin said.