Protesters march for Matt in Newton

Chad Frey
Protesters marched in Newton last week, bringing attention to a local victim of injustice, Matt Holmes.

NEWTON–As protests sweep across the nation and state in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd in Minnesota, protesters gathered last Wednesday in downtown Newton with the death of a local man in mind.

Following a chase on Aug. 28, 2017, that started in Newton and ended on Interstate 135 in McPherson County, a McPherson County sheriff’s deputy shot and killed William “Matt” Holmes, of Newton.

“Matt never got justice. Matt needs justice. We are here to make justice for Matt,” said marcher Autumn Muller.

The protest grew out of a social media event posting called “Justice Walk for Matt” started by members of the family of William Holmes. They urged walkers to maintain a peaceful protest.

About 75 marchers gathered in the Dollar General parking lot on Main Street — a building and parking lot now owned by the city in the 400 block of Main. Carrying signs with phrases like “Justice for Matt,” they marched north to the county courthouse where they knelt for several minutes. They then marched back to the Dollar General parking lot, where they rallied for about 30 minutes before dispersing.

As they marched, Newton police officers provided an escort to stop traffic for the pedestrians. In the parking lot, two officers handed out bottled water.

“I applaud each and every one of you and your actions today,” said Mike Yoder, of the Newton Police Department. “There are many towns around that do not have the decorum or wherewithal you did today.”

Marchers chanted slogans along the way including “no justice, no peace” and “I can’t breathe.” The latter has become a national cry in the wake of Floyd’s death.

Holmes was shot and killed after a more than 20-mile pursuit that began in Newton and ended in McPherson County. He was, according to reports by the McPherson County prosecutor’s office, shot in the back while struggling with a Newton police officer.

His passenger in the car, Kenneth C. Herrod, was arrested that night and charged with burglary, theft and aiding and abetting assault following the incident.

The McPherson County prosecutor, Gregory T. Benefiel, issued a finding in December 2017 that McPherson County Deputy Chris Sommers was “immune from prosecution” and no criminal charges would be filed.

The family filed a federal wrongful death lawsuit against the McPherson and Harvey County sheriff’s departments, the city of Newton and several officers involved in the incident along I-135. The city of Newton has since been removed from the litigation.