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ACLU suing Hampton, East Moline police and Rock Island sheriff’s office for false arrest and excessive use of force against college athlete

Lawyers for Jaylan Butler say he was "wrongfully arrested alongside an Illinois highway."

ROCK ISLAND COUNTY, Illinois--Lawyers for Jaylan Butler, the only black member of the Eastern Illinois University swim team, say he was "wrongfully arrested alongside an Illinois highway, held face down on the snowy ground with a gun to his forehead, and threatened by a group of police officers without justification."

Even when police officers realized they were mistaken in arresting Jaylan, they continued to detain him before forcing him to produce an identification card. Throughout the process, officers refused to identify themselves or give him any information about his arrest that would assist him in filing a formal complaint.

“My dad taught me at a young age what to do when you are stopped by police officers – stop instantly, put your hands up, drop anything you are holding, and drop to your knees,” said Jaylan. “I hoped I would never have to use this advice in my life, but all that changed in seconds.”

According to the lawsuit, on February 24, 2019, Jaylan was traveling with his swim team by bus from a tournament in South Dakota.

Shortly after 8:00 p.m., the bus pulled over on a frontage road off Interstate 80 near East Moline, Illinois. Jaylan and several teammates left the bus to stretch their legs. One of Jaylan’s coaches asked if he would take a photo of a roadside sign for the team’s social media account. Jaylan took the photo and began walking back to the bus.

Photo of Jaylan and Buckle Up Sign

The lawsuit paperwork states that several law enforcement vehicles pulled up, and officers exited the cars with their guns drawn. They allegedly began yelling and swearing at Jaylan. Jaylan put his hands up, dropped his cell phone, and dropped to his knees.

Police officers swarmed around Jaylan with their firearms pointed at him, and pushed him face-down onto the snowy ground. Jaylan had no idea why the officers had appeared. While one officer handcuffed him, other officers pinned him to the ground by pushing a knee into Jaylan’s back and pressing down on Jaylan’s neck. Another officer then held his gun to Jaylan’s forehead and threatened to “blow his [expletive] head off” if he moved. The team bus driver and Jaylan’s coach were alarmed and exited the bus to tell the officers Jaylan was part of the EIU swim team.

The lawsuit states that officers quickly realized that Jaylan was not the suspect they were looking for and had done nothing wrong, but instead of releasing him and apologizing, the officers searched his pockets and placed him – still cuffed – in the back of a police vehicle. After several more minutes, the officers released him, but only after forcing Jaylan to provide photo identification.

“What happened to Jaylan is an example of the harmful police interactions that people of color experience far too often, but which receive much less attention,” said Rachel Murphy, Staff Attorney, ACLU of Illinois. "These officers forcibly arrested and searched Jaylan without reasonable suspicion, probable cause, or any other lawful justification. They never told Jaylan why he was being arrested, even after they realized their mistake. Instead, it’s clear they based their decision to arrest and harm Jaylan on the fact that he was a young black man."

His lawyers say Jaylan has struggled with the effects of this incident and begun seeing a therapist to address his trauma and depression.

“I was scared and depressed. I remember sitting in class the next day, looking at the bruises on my wrists and replaying the events of that night,” said Jaylan. “Now whenever I see a police officer, I don’t feel safe—I feel scared and anxious.”

Jaylan is suing officers from the Hampton Police Department, the East Moline Police Department, and the Rock Island County Sheriff’s Office for false arrest, excessive detention, and excessive use of force. Jaylan is represented by attorneys at the ACLU of Illinois and Sidley Austin LLP. The case is pending in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois.

Rock Island County has responded to the lawsuit with this press release which reads as follows:

The Rock Island County State’s Attorney’s Office was served with a lawsuit filed by the ACLU on behalf of Jaylan Butler against East Moline Officer Staes, Hampton Officer Bush, and Rock Island County Sheriff’s Deputies Pena and Asquini alleging excessive force stemming from an incident on February 24, 2019. The State’s Attorney’s Civil Division has entered their appearance and will be defending Deputies Pena and Asquini. 

The receipt of this complaint was the first time this Office or the Rock Island County Sheriff’s Department was made aware of any incidents involving the alleged allegations. Upon receipt of the lawsuit, a preliminary fact-finding was conducted, which determined that Deputies Pena and Asquini arrived after Mr. Butler had already been detained by officers from other agencies. Deputies Pena and Asquini only had brief interactions with Mr. Butler and the other officers, leaving shortly thereafter to continue the manhunt for a fugitive in the area. 

The complaint filed by the ACLU is not considered evidence and merely initiates legal proceedings. It is, at this point, an allegation that warrants serious inquiry. The State’s Attorney’s Civil Division is committed to defending the Office of the Sheriff and the deputies involved in this litigation and anticipates that a thorough discovery process will develop a more complete picture of the events that occurred on February 24, 2019.

You can read the complaint in full here.