Are the Des Moines police engaging in racial profiling?

The dashcam video of a Des Moines police stop involving two African-American men, Montray Little and Jared Clinton, has been viewed over 9 million times.

"My heart sank into my feet," said Clinton's mother. "I apologized to him because I brought him to this city."

Clinton and Little have now filed a lawsuit claiming that the two Des Moines officers, who are both white, engaged in racial profiling when they pulled over Little's car on July 15. They also claim they and the vehicle were searched without probable cause, the constitutional standard for a warrantless search.

It's not clear from the video what prompted the traffic stop, and subsequent events don't clarify the issue. Generally, in order for a traffic stop to be legal, police officers must have reasonable, individualized suspicion that a crime or traffic violation has been committed, is in progress or is about to be committed.

According to the Des Moines Register, Little and Clinton were leaving Union Park on the city's north side when they were pulled over. Police have apparently received numerous complaints about activity in that neighborhood, but that probably wouldn't create the individualized suspicion required for a traffic stop.

The video shows a male officer ask Little, the driver, if he or Clinton were carrying weapons. He also claims to smell marijuana and to have spotted marijuana residue on the car floor. If that were true, however, it's not clear why the men were not arrested.

"Your buddy's giving me the idea that maybe he's got a gun," the officer says. "That's what I think."

"How?" asks one of the men in the car.

"I don't know," the officer responds. "Just the way, I mean, just the way you're holding yourself, man. That's why we're nervous, man. That's it."

The nervous officer then tells Little to exit the vehicle or be taken to jail. Little exits the car and is handcuffed.

The officer then proceeded to search the car while his partner questioned Clinton, but no marijuana or weapons were found. The men were allowed to go with no charges -- not even a ticket.

Groups like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa are pushing the Iowa Senate to prohibit racial profiling. Many experts believe that racial profiling is unconstitutional.

When the police violate people's rights, any evidence gained as a result is considered tainted by unconstitutionality and cannot be admitted as evidence in our courts. If you were stopped, searched or arrested and you suspect your rights were violated, a criminal defense attorney should evaluate your case.

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