WEST DES MOINES, Iowa –Last November, a black man was arrested in West Des Moines on police harassment charges after an officer tried to question him. They were called on a report of a suspicious person going door to door in the neighborhood.
Keilon Hill was canvassing homes for David Young’s campaign. On Monday it took a jury 15 minutes to find Hill not guilty. Hill could have paid a $60 dollar fine and be done with it, but he wanted a jury to hear his case. He flew back from Louisiana to do so.
“I studied political science and constitutional law for the better part of four years. I paid $60,000 dollars for that education, so why would I pay another 60 bucks for me to be wrong about something I’ve researched and I know,” said Hill.
In the body cam footage released by the department, it’s clear the officer is trying to have Hill identify himself and what he is doing. Hill refused several times, saying he did not break a law.
“It was plain as day what I was doing. Everybody else was walking around the neighborhood. I passed several other canvassers who had been doing the same exact activity, there was only one difference. So, I didn’t feel as if I should have had to explain anything to them,” Hill said
In the video, Hill is seen putting the campaign fliers under his jacket. Hill says he did so to have both hands free to shoot video with his cell phone, and to make sure there was nothing in his hands that could be viewed as a weapon.
Legally, harassing a public official is preventing or attempting to prevent an official from doing their duty. Hill’s lawyer argued that even though Hill was walking away from the officer and refusing to answer questions, he was not harassing him.
“Just his own personal desire to go about his business that day and continue working was not trying to prevent the officer from doing his job. He had a different motive; he was just trying to be left alone,” said Attorney Gina Messamer.
According to the ACLU, when being stopped by police in Iowa there is no law requiring you to give your name if asked to identify yourself during a temporary stop. You also have the right to ask if you are free to leave. The ACLU says if you are not under arrest you have the right to calmly leave. That being said, the ACLU also says if you are being questioned by police “Don’t run, don’t argue, resist or obstruct the police, even if you are innocent or the police are violating your rights.” They also say that “refusing to give your name may make them suspicious”. Hill says it’s easy for people not in his situation to say what he should have done.
“It’s easy to be a Tuesday night quarterback. It’s easy to say what you would have did in that predicament, but you’re not in that predicament and you’ll never be in that predicament because no one is going to call the police on you for being a Caucasian male or female, it doesn’t happen,” said Hill.
The West Des Moines Police Department did not wish to comment for this story. When the story first broke last year Police Chief Chris Scott said, “If an officer says you aren’t free to leave, you aren’t free to leave”.
Minnesota and South Dakota also do not require individuals to show ID to officers during a temporary stop; Nebraska and Missouri have laws saying you do.
You can watch the full stop video here