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Black College Swimmer Files Lawsuit Against Illinois Police Who He Claims Held Him at Gunpoint

4 minute read

A black Illinois college student has filed a lawsuit against police officers who he alleges held him at gunpoint while traveling with his high school swim team.

The lawsuit claims one officer held a gun to the young swimmer’s head and warned that he would “blow [his] f-cking head off” if he dared to move, according to a lawsuit filed by the student’s attorneys, who include lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union’s Roger Baldwin Foundation.

Last February, Eastern Illinois University student Jaylan Butler was driving back home with his team from a conference championship swim meet in South Dakota, when the bus pulled over near an Interstate Highway 80 rest stop in East Moline, Ill. As some of the swimmers got off to stretch their legs, a coach suggested that Butler take a picture with a sign that said “Buckle Up. It’s the Law” to post on the team’s social media, the complaint said.

Butler, who the ACLU of Illinois said in a press release, was the only black student on the team, posed with the sign and snapped a smiling selfie. But as he turned back to the bus, several police cars pulled up to him, their lights blazing according to the release.

Butler dropped to his knees, put his hands him and let his phone fall to the ground, according to the complaint. He later told the ACLU that this is what his father had taught him to do.

The lawsuit alleges the officers drew their guns, got out of their cars and pointed their firearms at Butler, shouting, “Get down!” and “Don’t f-cking move! Stay right there!”

The officers forced Butler to lay down on the snowy ground, and officers held him there as Hampton Police Officer Ethan Bush handcuffed him, according to the complaint.

An officer held a gun to Butler’s forehead and declared “If you keep moving, I’m going to blow your fucking head off,” the complaint said.

The lawsuit claims a swim coach approached the officers and told them that Butler was a member of the swim team, and Butler himself attempted to tell the officer that he was with the team. One of the officers informed the dispatcher that the incident was a false alarm, and the officers allowed Butler to sit up. The Dispatch / Rock Island Argus reported that Butler was wearing a university jacket, and that the bus also displayed the University’s name.

However, an officer told Butler that he was being arrested for resisting arrest, and the officers didn’t remove the handcuffs or tell him he was free to go. The officers then brought Butler over to a squad car, searched him and put him in the back seat of the car, the lawsuit said. The police arrested Butler a few minutes later.

The complaint accused officers from the Hampton Police Department, the East Moline Police Department and the Rock Island County in Illinois of multiple counts of misconduct, including false arrest and for detaining him without a warrant. It alleges that the officers violated the student’s rights under the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment, which bars unreasonable search and seizures.

The lawsuit also said that the officers had violated the law by failing to document the search or giving Butler a receipt for the incident. Two officers were identified in the lawsuit only as “John Does” because the defendants did not give Butler their names, badge numbers or other identification, according to the lawsuit.

On Wednesday, Rock Island County Sheriff Gerry Bustos released a statement acknowledging that his office had been served with the lawsuit. However, he wrote the he is confident that allegations against two deputies named in the complaint— Jack Asquini and an officer identified as Pena, are “without merit.” The Dispatch-Argus reported that Pena’s first name as Jason.

For Butler, the incident was traumatic, according to the lawsuit. Butler said that he feels “scared and anxious” when he sees police officers now, according to the ACLU of Illinois.

“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,” Butler said, according to the ACLU of Illinois statement.

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