Jaylan Butler, a swimmer at Eastern Illinois University, said he was unlawfully confronted by a police officer who pressed a handgun to his forehead and warned that if he kept moving, he would have his head blown off, is suing the police department. The incident took place on Feb. 24, 2019.
Butler, 20, who is from Chicago, alleges he was falsely accused, violently thrown to the ground with guns pointed at him even after police learned he was the wrong individual they were searching for. Butler is the only Black member of the swim team.
Butler was allegedly walking back to a team bus at the end of a trip by the Eastern Illinois University swim team when the incident occurred. The team was returning from a championship tournament last year in Sioux Falls, S.D., when their bus driver pulled off of Interstate 80 near a rest stop in East Moline, IL at about 8 pm at night.
Butler filed his lawsuit against the 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.
Butler, then 19, got out of the bus, which was headed to Charleston, Ill., when several patrol cars suddenly surrounded him and at least six police officers confronted him with their guns drawn.
“Plaintiff Jaylan Butler has always known that he could be targeted by police officers because he is Black. Mr. Butler’s father taught him at a young age how to maximize his chances of surviving an encounter with law enforcement: stop instantly, put your hands up, drop anything you are holding, and drop to your knees,” Butler’s lawsuit states.
Butler put his hands up but was forced to the ground by officers and one of them allegedly held a gun to his head and threatened to “blow his f—ing head off” if he moved. Butler complied with all the orders and was placed in handcuffs face down on the ground.
Butler’s coaches intervened and explained to police officers that Butler was a member of the swim team. He was released by police soon thereafter as they realized he was not the individual they were searching for.
“They never told Jaylan why he was being arrested, even after they realized their mistake,” Rachel Murphy, a staff attorney at the ACLU of Illinois, told the New York Post. “Instead, it’s clear they based their decision to arrest and harm Jaylan on the fact that he was a young Black man.”
The chief of the East Moline Police Department, Jeff Ramsey, said in a statement on February 29 that one of his officers had been searching for a gunman who allegedly shot at a vehicle on Interstate 80 not far from where police encountered Butler.
(Lauren Victoria Burke is an independent journalist for NNPA and the host of the podcast Burkefile. She is also a political strategist as Principal of Win Digital Media LLC. She may be contacted at LBurke007@gmail.com and on twitter at @LVBurke).