An African-American man accused of acting suspicious and harassing an Iowa policeman has been cleared of criminal wrongdoing, The Des Moines Register reported.
A Polk County jury acquitted Keilon Hill, 24, on Monday of misdemeanor harassment of a public official, nearly seven months after he says he was racially profiled and arrested by West Des Moines Police while campaigning for Republican Rep. David Young in October.
Hill, who lives in Louisiana, captured much of the incident on his cell phone. He told The Register he was “happy” to finally be vindicated, and said he planned to fly home to Louisiana on Tuesday.
The young man’s attorney, Gina Messamer, slammed the criminal justice system for how they treated her client despite his innocence.
“He was treated like a criminal for absolutely no reason, to the point where he had to come back from Louisiana to defend himself,” Messamer said, adding she was happy the jury only took 15 minutes to come back with a verdict.
“[It] just shows that he never should have been charged in the first place,” she added.
The police officer who arrested Hill, Clinton Ray, testified that he found no evidence a crime had occurred, aside from the alleged harassment. Ray was also exonerated by his department, according to the newspaper.
The two crossed paths Oct. 29, 2018, after local police received a call from a resident about a “suspicious” person in the neighborhood. Hill, 24, was busy canvassing and knocking on doors when he was approached by Officer Ray and another policeman, who explained they were there investigating a call of suspicious person.
In the five-minute clip, the campaign worker is heard telling the officers he isn’t breaking any laws and that the cop has no right to detain him. Ray asks Hill multiple times to stop and talk, but the young man refuses.
“I’m not going to tell you again, stop,” Ray says. “I will detain you.”
“Detain me for what?” Hill replies. “Have I broken any laws?”
“You’re not listening,” the officer says before suggesting “it doesn’t matter” if Hill broke the law or not. “I’m investigating a suspicious person.”
At trial, prosecutors argued Hill impeded the police from doing their jobs by being defensive, walking away and refusing to answer their questions.
“The inquiry doesn’t end when someone simply walks away,” assistant Polk County Attorney Thomas Tolbert told jurors Monday. “If someone is under investigation, the investigation is furthered until it’s cleared, it’s concluded.”
Tolbert called the “harassment of a public official” charge misleading, and urged the jury to focus on the fact that Hill had “willfully” prevented Ray from exercising his duty.
“After watching the video, we know that based on the facts of this case, that is what happened” he said.
After the verdict, Hill, 24, said that nonspecific emergency calls, like the one that got him arrested, should be vetted much more carefully. His experience was just one in a long list of incidents of police being called on Black people for innocuous reasons.
Hill’s attorney, Gina Messamer, acknowledged that both parties could’ve handled the situation differently but said “I would have some serious doubts about whether this would happen to a white person.”