Black man profiled, arrested while knocking doors for David Young (updated)

A West Des Moines police officer followed and eventually arrested an African American man who was canvassing on behalf of U.S. Representative David Young. Keilon Hill came to Iowa to work for a Republican-aligned super-PAC and recorded his interactions with Officer Clint Ray on October 29. Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement released those videos today, saying the incident provides “more evidence of racial profiling among police officers in the Des Moines metro area.”

I’ve transcribed parts of the videos below. The episode looks like an obvious case of racial profiling. Hill was carrying campaign literature. There is nothing unusual or fishy about field organizers or volunteers knocking on doors for a candidate eight days before an election.

Having talked to hundreds of political volunteers and campaign staffers over the years, I’ve never heard of police questioning or detaining a white person who was canvassing for a candidate. However, too many African Americans who have done this work in Iowa have stories like Hill’s to share. This case is unusual only in that it ended with an arrest.

According to Iowa CCI’s news release (enclosed in full below), Officer Ray approached Hill while he was taking notes. It’s standard procedure for canvassers to write down information about each household contacted, such as whether the targeted voter is a supporter, undecided, was not home, moved, already voted, etc.

In the first video, Ray warned Hill that West Des Moines has a soliciting ordinance. Hill informed him that soliciting means “offering services,” which he was not doing. He was seeking to talk to voters and distribute campaign literature supporting Young’s re-election in Iowa’s third Congressional district.

At that point, Ray should have let the matter drop. Instead, he insisted that Hill stop his work and repeatedly called him a “suspicious person,” with no basis. The second video is worth watching in full. My transcript of the back and forth:

West Des Moines Officer Clint Ray: You’re a suspicious person.

Political canvasser Keilon Hill: Suspicious how? What am I doing that’s–

Ray: A neighbor called over here, so I don’t understand why you’re being difficult about this.

Hill: I’m not being difficult about anything, because I haven’t done anything out of the way. So with that being said, I’ll go about my business, sir.

Ray: I’m not done with you yet. You’re not free to go.

Hill: Have I done any–have I broken any laws?

Ray, on phone: Can you send me one this way please?

Hill: Have I broken any laws, sir?

Ray: I’m talking to you, I’m not done. I’m investigating a suspicious person.

Hill: You have a nice day, sir. If I’m not under arrest–

Ray: Stop, now.

Hill: For what?

Ray: I can detain you. Stop.

Hill: For what?

Ray: Because you’re not listening. I’m investigating a suspicious person. Stop now.

Hill: Sir, sir, have I broken any laws?

Ray: Stop.

Hill: Tell me what laws I have broken, sir.

Ray: I told you to stop.

Hill: I don’t have to stop.

Ray: Yes.

Hill: You know I don’t. Either arrest me, tell me what laws I’ve broken, or get away from me.

Ray talks to someone else.

Hill: (laughs) Sir, I said, look, look: I know my rights. And with that being said, if I’m not breaking any laws, you have no reason to detain me. So I’m going to ask you one more time to move–

Ray: Stop.

Hill: For what? What have–

Ray: Because I’m talking to you, and you’re–

Hill: What have I done that’s wrong?

Ray: I just told you, I’m investigating who you are.

Hill: Sir, sir you’re harassing me. […]

Ray talks to colleague.

Ray: Stop, I’m telling you to stop, and I’m not going to tell you again.

Hill: And what will you do if I don’t stop?

Ray: I will detain you.

Hill: Detain me for what?

Ray: You’re not listening. I’m doing an investigation of a suspicious person.

Hill: Suspicious person–have I broken any laws?

Ray: It doesn’t–that’s not the point.

Hill: Have I broken any laws?

Ray: Someone called you in as a suspicious person.

Hill: OK, and? […]

Hill: Now get away from me. I haven’t done anything out of the way. You can’t arrest me. Arrest me right now if you want to.

Ray: Here, turn around.

Hill: For, for, for what?

Ray: Stop, turn around.

Hill: What have I done wrong?

Ray: Because you’re not listening to me.

Hill: What have I done wrong, sir?

Ray: Get the phone out of my face. Because I’m investigating a suspicious person.

Hill: Sir, sir, what have I done wrong? I’m not suspicious. I haven’t done anything. I’m walking up the street. I haven’t done anything wrong. I don’t have any–

Ray: Neighbors have called on you. […]

The third video depicts further back and forth and the arrest. Hill repeatedly asked why he was being detained. “You wouldn’t follow my directions,” Ray said. “I told you to stop numerous times”; “You’re a suspicious person.” Hill insisted that he had not entered anyone’s property. The officer said police had received “two calls on you about entering people’s areas,” and “They were concerned.” A second officer backed up Ray: “Did you stop when he told you to? That’s interference”; “He told you to stop”; “You didn’t identify yourself.” “We had calls on you.”

The fourth video released today shows an Urbandale police officer following Hill as he was doing his job on October 30.

Hill told Iowa CCI,

Within 5 days of my stay in Des Moines, I had two police encounters, with one ending in an arrest. These encounters happened while I was out working in affluential, Caucasian neighborhoods. I had work materials with me. I stood up for myself because I had the right to. The laws of every state and how to handle police interactions have been embedded in my mind because you have to be ready for these things at any moment as an African American person. I hope that my story prevents another minority from going through a similar situation.

CCI added that the criminal charge against Hill “could impact his entire future and potential career,” as he is applying to law school.

Police and city authorities in West Des Moines, Urbandale, and everywhere else in Iowa should make sure officers are trained well enough not to follow, let alone arrest, people for “canvassing while black.” Someone calling the police on an African American man in the neighborhood is not grounds to harass and detain someone doing nothing wrong. It’s almost unheard of for a white person to be questioned by police over typical political volunteering.

On a related note, CCI is encouraging members of the public to attend a November 19 Des Moines City Council meeting to push for a racial profiling ordinance. Earlier this year, the group held several events to raise awareness of the problem. Laural Clinton, whose son was the passenger in a notorious car stop this summer, discussed that community organizing effort here.

UPDATE: An officer in a nearby suburb either missed the point or hopes the public will. From Jason Clayworth’s story for the Des Moines Register:

A key question is whether the arresting officers had the authority — or the responsibility — to require Hill to identify himself, a point of law sometimes referenced as the “reasonable suspicion standard.” It generally requires that officers have a reasonable suspicion before they stop a person.

“It’s part of police work,” West Des Moines Police Sgt. Dan Wade said. “If we have the potential that something illegal is happening, we want to find out what’s going on so officers can determine if there has been a crime or will be a crime.”

The officer should have realized immediately nothing illegal was happening. A man was carrying campaign literature and a walk list, canvassing for a candidate shortly before an election. Officer Ray had no basis for demanding that Hill identify himself. More from Clayworth:

Hill said Monday he would have acted differently had the officers treated him more respectfully. He said he felt compelled to share his experience to help end profiling.

“It’s one of those things where it’s simply the principle,” Hill said. “Had they given a legitimate reason as to why I needed to be identified, then, by all means, here’s all of my information.”

Exactly. There was no valid reason for the police to interfere with his work.

SECOND UPDATE: The West Des Moines Police Department released Officer Ray’s body cam footage of this incident, Clayworth reported for the Register on November 14.

“People need to see for a second the world from a cop’s eyes and that’s what we’re going to do today,” West Des Moines Police Chief Chris Scott said just moments before releasing the video.

West Des Moines Police Officer Clint Ray responded to a call to the department’s non-emergency line Oct. 29 of a black man in the 5700 block of Aspen Drive who had fliers in his hand, was leaning on a mailbox and taking pictures of houses.

That man — Keilon Hill, 24, of Baton Rouge, Louisiana — was campaigning for U.S. Rep. David Young as part of a contract with “Defending Main Street,” a Republican political action committee based in Washington, D.C.

You can view the police video on the Register’s website. The officer should have backed off right away after confirming the caller had identified a political canvasser.

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement press release, November 12:

Black man canvassing for David Young stopped by West Des Moines police officer

Bridget Fagan-Reidburn, Community Organizer, bridget[@], 515.255.0800

Des Moines, IA– Today, members of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, a grassroots social justice organization, released cell phone video footage of a Monday, October 29, 2018 interaction between West Des Moines Officer Clint Ray and political canvasser, Keilon Hill. Iowa CCI members say this is more evidence of racial profiling among police officers in the Des Moines metro area.

Links to Keilon Hill’s videos:

Video 1 – Under investigation for soliciting (:24)
Video 2 – “You’re a suspicious person” (2:16)
Video 3 – The arrest (3:15)
Video 4 – Second incident of racial profiling (:39)
On Monday, October 29, 2018 at approximately 3:00 p.m., Keilon Hill was door canvassing for Rep. David Young. Mr. Hill, a resident of southern Louisiana, was employed by a super PAC working on behalf of Young. After Mr. Hill interviewed a resident, he sat down on a rock next to the sidewalk to write his notes, with his campaign pamphlets beside him.

Officer Clint Ray with the West Des Moines Police Department pulled up as Mr. Hill was writing his notes. Officer Ray approached Mr. Hill and asked what he was doing around here. Officer Ray then began to tell Mr. Hill that he was soliciting. Mr. Hill explained to Officer Ray that he was not soliciting anything because he was not offering any services or selling any goods. At that point, Mr. Hill declined the interview and told Officer Ray he was going on his way. Mr. Hill was in possession of campaign materials and was clearly out canvassing.

Officer Ray followed Mr. Hill as he walked away and demanded he identify himself. Officer Ray repeated that Mr. Hill was a suspicious person. Mr. Hill asked repeatedly what crime he had committed, and Officer Ray could not provide a response. Mr. Hill declined to speak with Officer Ray further because he knew Iowa law does not require a person to identify themselves unless there is reasonable suspicion that criminal activity is afoot, and Mr. Hill was not up to anything illegal.

Because Mr. Hill declined to speak with him, Officer Ray arrested Mr. Hill for violating Iowa Code § 718.4. That statute makes it illegal to willfully prevent an officer from performing the officer’s duty. But the United States Supreme Court has held a person “may not be detained even momentarily without reasonable, objective grounds for doing so; and his refusal to listen or answer does not, without more, furnish those grounds.” Fla. v. Royer, 103 S. Ct. 1319, 1324 (1983). In other words, it is not illegal to refuse to interact with law enforcement when there is no reason for law enforcement to think that you’re doing something wrong.

This is not the first incident we have heard of African Americans canvassing for candidates where the police have been called by neighbors or the canvasser was followed by the police for simply being in a predominantly white neighborhood. Mr. Hill said the following day, he was canvassing in Urbandale and an Urbandale police officer followed him. A woman invited him into her home so the police would leave him alone.

Mr. Hill provided this statement:

“Before I came to Des Moines, I saw reports of racial profiling by the Des Moines Police Department. I watched a video circulated through social media of two African American males being profiled in a car made me apprehensive about coming to Des Moines, but work brought me here.

I do not live in this community, but I felt compelled to share my experience. There will be another 24-year-old Black man that will be stopped tomorrow, who may not know his rights. It is important to address these issues within every community in Des Moines that has suffered at the hands of an agency charged with protecting the citizens that inhabit them.

Within 5 days of my stay in Des Moines, I had two police encounters, with one ending in an arrest. These encounters happened while I was out working in affluential, Caucasian neighborhoods. I had work materials with me. I stood up for myself because I had the right to. The laws of every state and how to handle police interactions have been embedded in my mind because you have to be ready for these things at any moment as an African American person. I hope that my story prevents another minority from going through a similar situation.”

Racial profiling has lasting effects, from economic and employment loss to being trapped in the court system. Mr. Hill, is currently applying to law school and this arrest could impact his entire future and potential career.

Mr. Hill has retained Gina Messamer, an attorney with the Parrish Law Firm to represent him in his criminal case.

This incident comes on the heels of Iowa CCI releasing dash and body cam footage of a racial profiling stop by Officers Kyle Thies and Natalie Heinemann. Iowa CCI members and the community continue to await the results of the Des Moines Police Department’s internal investigation.

Take Action
On November 19, community members will urge the Des Moines City Council to start the drafting process for a city-wide anti-racial profiling ordinance.
The community is invited. For more information, contact Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement at 255-0800.

LATE UPDATE: In an outrageous abuse of prosecutorial discretion, Polk County charged Hill with misdemeanor harassment of a public official. A jury acquitted him in April 2019, Tyler J. Davis reported for the Des Moines Register.

Clinton Ray, the officer who arrested Hill, testified Monday that he never found evidence that a crime had occurred outside of the alleged harassment. Ray was cleared of any wrongdoing by his department.

“I just am generally disappointed about how the criminal justice system treated Mr. Hill,” [defense attorney Gina] Messamer said. “He was treated like a criminal for absolutely no reason, to the point where he had to come back from Louisiana to defend himself in this case.” […]

“I think the fact that the jury came back in 15 minutes just shows that he never should have been charged in the first place,” she said. […]

“It’s not law enforcement’s job, it’s not their duty, to teach people a lesson or teach them respect for law enforcement,” she [Messamer] said [during closing arguments at trial]. “That’s where we get ego playing in and maybe Officer Ray thought Keilon should jump when he said ‘jump,’ and Mr. Hill didn’t.

“Asserting your right to be left alone, that is not a crime.”

What an embarrassment for the West Des Moines Police and the Polk County attorney’s office.

Maintenance Notice - As of November 14, 2023 we are still seeing issues with replying to comments...Thanks for your patience, this will be restored.

  • Way to go!

    Sorry about the 3rd district, Mr. Hill. I know the feeling because I was followed and quizzed once by a suspicious small town landlord who saw me knock at a house he owned. At least he was not the cops. I like how you stood up for us all. Now sue the cops!

  • David Young's response?

    Has David Young commented on this yet?

  • My Experiences

    This is definitely a trait you see in Suburbia. Especially the Des Moines Suburbs. In 2004 I worked the entire year canvassing as part of my job. Every time we had to go out to West Des Moines, Clive, Urbandale etc I would cringe. Not only were people especially rude, but they were constantly paranoid about what was going on and i’m white. However, I acknowledge that it’s 10X worse if you’re black in these areas. Another colleague of myself would canvass the same area and he would get stopped by police on a few occasions where I was only stopped once. ….He was black. The funny thing is he grew up in a nice neighborhood in Ankeny where I grew up right by East High School….yet they saw him as more a threat because of the color of his skin.

    I don’t mean to offend anyone, but it’s the truth and it’s really true of Des Moines. I live in Suburban Cedar Rapids now and you got some of the same stuff here, but not nearly on the scale as you do there.

  • Sometimes rural Iowa too

    Several years ago an older friend was regularly paying various young people to do outdoor work on his rural property. There was never a question or problem until he paid a couple of dark-skinned Latino kids, and while they were doing the same work the white kids had been doing for weeks, that’s when a sheriff’s deputy stopped by to ask what was going on.