Fact Check

Did African-American Drivers Comprise 100% of the Traffic Arrests in Polk County, Iowa?

An activist organization mistakenly reported a Des Moines police officer's 2017 traffic arrests were of exclusively African-American suspects.

Published Aug. 21, 2018

 (Tiko Aramyan / Shutterstock.com)
Image courtesy of Tiko Aramyan / Shutterstock.com
All of the drivers arrested in 282 traffic stops in Polk County, Iowa, were African-American.
What's True

The ratio of African-American vs. white drivers arrested by one Des Moines police officer in 2017 departed significantly from the county's racial demographics.

What's False

The drivers arrested by the officer were not exclusively African-American, as originally claimed.

In mid-August 2018, video of Des Moines police officers stopping and questioning two young African-American men made local news when an Iowa activist organization accused the department of racial profiling:

The video, taken from one of the officer's body cameras, shows Des Moines police officers Kevin Thies and Natalie Heinemann stopping Montray Little, 23, and Jared Clinton, 21. Thies can be heard in the footage telling Little and Clinton that he suspects they were smoking marijuana and that he believes Clinton has a gun. After both men were taken out of the car, handcuffed, and questioned, they were released and allowed to go on their way.

Clinton's mother accused Des Moines police of "baiting" her son, while the activist group Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (CCI) weighed in and accused Thies of making 282 traffic arrests in 2017, all of which involved African-American suspects. Des Moines station WHO reported that:

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement claims officer Thies has a history of similar traffic stops. They claim Polk County booking records show that of Thies' 282 arrests in 2017, 100% were black. When looking at interference with official acts charges, [we found] twenty-six [suspects] were black compared to five white. All numbers Des Moines police strongly contest.

Sergeant Paul Parizek with the department says "These are horribly inaccurate [numbers]. We are finding right now it is nowhere near one hundred percent. [CCI] do a lot of good work but for an organization whose mission is supposed to be community improvement, this type of attack on us is the most irresponsible thing they could do."

Those figures caught the attention of human rights activist and attorney Qasim Rashid, who has a large social media following. He initially tweeted the report's inaccurate figures (but in a follow-up tweet he corrected the record):

Readers asked us whether all of 282 traffic arrests in Polk County, Iowa, were of African-American suspects, and whether Officer Thies had exclusively arrested black drivers. Neither of those claims is true, although arrest data showed that Thies had an arrest ratio for black vs. white drivers that stood at essentially one-to-one, even though whites make up nearly 70 percent of the city's population and African-Americans only 11 percent, according to 2017 Census data.

Rashid corrected the record in a follow-up post after CCI acknowledged they had made an error:


Hardy, Kevin.   "Local Activist Group Says Video Shows Des Moines Police Officer Racially Profiling 2 Black Men."     Des Moines Register.   15 August 2018.

WHO-TV.   "13Raw: Des Moines Police Accused of Racial Profiling After July Traffic Stop."     15 August 2018.

Salcedo, Angelina.   "Des Moines Police Officer Accused of Racial Profiling."     WeAreIowa.com.   16 August 2018.

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement.  "Newly Released Dash and Body Cam Footage Shows Racial Profiling by DMPD."     15 August 2018.

Bethania Palma is a journalist from the Los Angeles area who has been working in the news industry since 2006.

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