(EDITOR’S NOTE, 8/16/18, 8:12 PM ET: This story has been updated after Iowa CCI revised the percentage of Thies’ black arrestees from 100 percent to 49 percent.
“We unfortunately had this piece of the data wrong. But unlike the DMPD, we can admit our mistake and take responsibility,” said Bridget Fagan-Reidburn, community organizer with Iowa CCI, on Thursday. “The updated data for Thies’s booking history still tells the same story. In our opinion, he has a clear pattern of targeting young Black males and it has to stop.“)
Des Moines, Iowa police officer Kyle Thies lives in a mostly white city. However, he seems to focus on its small number of black residents.
WHO-TV, an NBC affiliate in Des Moines, recently reported on statistics obtained by Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (also known as Iowa CCI — a non-profit civil rights organization) showing that nearly half of all people Officer Thies booked into the Polk County Jail last year were black. Even though CCI later updated their estimate from 100 percent to 49 percent after new data became available, the figure is still astonishing, given the demographic data for both Des Moines and Polk County.
According to 2017 figures from the U.S. Census Bureau, African Americans make up only 11 percent of Des Moines’ population of 217,521 residents. When taking all of Polk County’s 481,830 residents into account, the percentage of black residents drops to just seven percent. Given these numbers, Officer Thies’ arrest of mostly black residents leads some to believe that he explicitly targeted black people while on patrol.
The group released the report following newly released video of Officers Kyle Thies and Natalie Heinemann pulling over 23-year-old Montray Little, who did not appear to have broken any traffic laws and had no vehicular issues. Despite this, he and his passenger, 21-year-old Jared Clinton, were handled as though they were suspects in a crime. In the footage taken from Thies’ body camera, Little is polite and cooperating with all of Thies’ commands while Thies accuses Little and Clinton of having marijuana and a gun. Thies placed Little in handcuffs while searching his rental vehicle without first requesting consent, obtaining a search warrant, or stating the probable cause he established to proceed.
The search for marijuana and a firearm turned out to be fruitless. Thies recovered an unsealed bottle of alcohol, which he ordered Little to empty out onto the street even though neither Little nor Clinton showed signs of intoxication. Officers also did not conduct a breathalyzer test, nor did they perform a field sobriety test.
“There was no gun, there was no weapon to harm you, officer. We didn’t do anything wrong, we stopped at the stop light, we pulled over when you pulled over,” Little said calmly in the back of Thies’ vehicle. “I did everything you asked me to, officer. You thought there was a weapon, there’s no weapon. We wasn’t doing anything wrong, officer. I’m not sure why you pulled me over.”
Iowa CCI accused Thies of racial profiling. Laural Clinton said she cried when she watched the video of officers mistreating her son.
“Racial profiling by police happens in Des Moines. This time it happened to my 21-year-old son… It’s so easy to see how an unwarranted traffic stop like this could’ve easily turned my son into another Philando Castile, or given him a police record,” Clinton said, referencing the deadly 2016 shooting of a Minneapolis man that began as a routine traffic stop.
“It’s clear that Officer Thies was determined to find a reason to arrest these young men who were just enjoying their Sunday evening like anyone else. No one should have to go through this. This will affect my son and Montray for years to come,” she added.
Des Moines police chief Dana Wingert has not yet commented on Officer Thies’ actions as of this writing.
Tom Cahill is a contributor for Grit Post who covers political and economic news. He lives in Bend, Oregon. Send him an email at tom DOT v DOT cahill AT gmail DOT com.