Ex-deputy Douglas County DA: ‘I attempted to meet hatred with humor’ in dressing as anti-mask protester

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Post updated at 5:48 p.m. Tuesday, June 25:

Former Deputy Douglas County District Attorney Joshua Seiden says he was attempting to “meet hatred with humor” in dressing up as a Lawrence man known for his anti-mask protests and frequent public comments.

Footage from the Douglas County Judicial and Law Enforcement Center lobby Friday morning shows Seiden dressed as Justin Spiehs, who is known in the Lawrence community for his anti-mask protests during the COVID-19 pandemic and his frequent public comments at local government meetings. Spiehs also ran as a Republican for a Douglas County Commission seat in 2022.

Seiden in the video is holding up a phone as if to record interactions with people, as Spiehs often does. Seiden’s boss, Douglas County DA Suzanne Valdez, can be seen laughing in the footage. Seiden and Valdez stepped into the lobby of the courthouse momentarily and interacted with deputies working in court security before walking back into the DA’s office.

Here’s a zoomed-in view of the video (wider version below):

“The bottom line is that my actions reflected poorly on the office. I placed the District Attorney in an extremely difficult position,” Seiden said in a message Tuesday. “The District Attorney’s Office performs serious, essential work and I apologize for distracting from that.”

Seiden is no longer employed by the DA’s office.

Seiden said he was “recently confronted” by Spiehs. “He stared me down while holding a Nazi sign,” Seiden said.

Spiehs had appeared at a candidate forum the previous Saturday, June 15 at the Lawrence Public Library. Spiehs occasionally booed Valdez as she answered questions. He was holding one sign bearing the message “Democrats are racists,” and another that said “nazis work here,” with a swastika.

“Being of Jewish descent, I took this extremely personally,” Seiden said on Tuesday. “In wearing the costume, l attempted to meet hatred with humor. This was still a poor decision on my part.”

Mackenzie Clark/Lawrence Times Justin Spiehs is standing second from left in this photo, holding signs at the district attorney candidate forum June 15, 2024. At right in the foreground is Douglas County DA Suzanne Valdez.
Mackenzie Clark/Lawrence Times Then-Deputy DA Joshua Seiden, left, and DA Suzanne Valdez speak with community members after the candidate forum on June 15, 2024 at the Lawrence Public Library.

The Douglas County district attorney’s office had not responded to an email seeking comment on the video and seeking to clarify whether Seiden will continue serving as Valdez’s campaign treasurer by the time this article was most recently updated.

Valdez is currently seeking reelection after her first four-year term as DA. She will face two other Democrats, Tonda Hill and Dakota Loomis, in the Aug. 6 primary election. The winner will face Republican Mike Warner in the Nov. 5 general election.

The DA’s office said in a statement Monday that “Joshua Seiden has been an integral part of our office since District Attorney Valdez took office, and his contributions have been significant,” and “We wish him the very best as he seeks new opportunities.”

Former Senior Assistant DA David Greenwald has taken on the role of deputy DA.

The video was provided by the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office Tuesday in response to an open record request. The sheriff’s office is the agency that keeps security footage from the Douglas County Judicial and Law Enforcement Center.

Spiehs said Tuesday that he thought the video footage showed confirmation of the sheriff’s office’s bias against him. He said he believed Seiden knew the deputies would laugh at the costume, so he wore it out into the hallway to “yuck it up, get laughs.”

“That’s just more of that systemic bias towards me, that hatred that they have towards me,” Spiehs said. Spiehs has a lawsuit pending against the sheriff’s office alleging that DGSO has violated his First Amendment rights based on viewpoint discrimination.

Spiehs said his sign saying that “nazis work here” was referring to staff members at the library, who he has alleged in a separate lawsuit would not allow him to enter a public event while carrying a sign because they disagreed with his message.

Asked whether he had any empathy for Seiden and how he felt after seeing Spiehs’ sign, Spiehs asked whether Seiden had shown any empathy for him when following an incident that was recorded in 2021 while Spiehs was protesting COVID-related mask mandates.

A video showed an altercation in which a man “forcefully took the signs the victim (Spiehs) was holding, throwing one sign into the street and attempting to walk away with the other,” as Lawrence police described it. “The victim knocked over the suspect and retrieved the signs.” Neither Spiehs nor the other man was charged in connection with that incident.

Douglas County Sheriff Jay Armbrister was notified of what had happened shortly after it occurred Friday morning, according to a statement from DGSO. One Douglas County Sheriff’s Office deputy took a photo of Seiden in the moment “so the deputy could notify his supervisors about what was happening,” according to the statement.

It has been rumored that deputies were posing for photos with Seiden in costume.

“The Sheriff’s Office currently has no information that suggested deputies posed with Mr. Seiden, but if any additional information comes forward, it will be handled swiftly and according to the Sheriff’s Office protocol,” according to the statement.

The sheriff’s office declined to respond to Spiehs’ comments.

Here’s a wider view of the video:

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Mackenzie Clark (she/her), reporter/founder of The Lawrence Times, can be reached at mclark (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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