TV6 Investigates: African American EIU student files lawsuit after 'unlawful arrest' in Illinois

EAST MOLINE, Ill. (KWQC) - An Eastern Illinois University student is suing officers from multiple law enforcement agencies in Illinois.

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The civil lawsuit was filed in the Central District of Illinois by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Illinois on behalf of Jaylan Butler, who is the only African American member of the Eastern Illinois University swim team. Butler is also represented by Sidley Austin LLP.

Butler is suing officers from the Hampton Police Department, the East Moline Police Department, and the Rock Island County Sheriff’s Office, citing false arrest, excessive detention, and excessive use of force.

The lawsuit stems from an alleged incident on February 24, 2019.

The lawsuit says, “Butler went from riding on a bus with his college swim team returning from a conference championship swim meet, to being forcefully held on the ground by police officers with a handgun pressed to his forehead while a police officer threatened to “blow [his] (expletive) head off” if he moved.”

According to the filing, the incident took place shortly after 8 p.m. The document states as the bus was returning from a tournament in South Dakota, the driver pulled over on a frontage road off Interstate 80 near East Moline, Illinois.

It says Butler exited the bus with several teammates to stretch their legs and that one of his coaches asked if he would take a photo of a roadside sign for the team’s social media account. The sign, according to the lawsuit, said “Buckle Up. It’s the Law.”

“Mr. Butler took a photo of himself, smiling in front of the sign, and then began walking back toward the bus,” the lawsuit says.

The document states that as he was walking back to the bus, several law enforcement vehicles raced over, and officers approached Butler with their guns drawn. Documents state the officers approached Butler while yelling and swearing.

The ACLU says Butler was surprised and confused, but followed his father’s advice and followed commands, stopping and putting his hands up, dropping his cellphone, and dropping to his knees.

Butler said, “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. ... I hoped I would never have to use this advice in my life, but all that changed in seconds.”

The lawsuit names officer Travis Staes of the East Moline Police Department, officer Ethan Bush of the Hampton Police Department, Sheriff’s Deputy Jack Asquini of the Rock Island County Sheriff’s Office, Sheriff’s Deputy Pena of the Rock Island County Sheriff’s Office, and two ‘John Does,’ who are unknown law enforcement officers.

Each officer named in the lawsuit is being sued in their ‘individual capacities,’ says the suit, meaning the departments themselves are not being sued as a whole.

The lawsuit says, “even once the police officers realized this was a case of mistaken identity and that Mr. Butler had committed no crime, they continued with his detention and arrest.”

According to the filing, “the officers did not observe Mr. Butler committing any crime, attempting to commit any crime, or behaving suspiciously.”

In the 13-page lawsuit, it says, “at least one defendant was carrying what appeared to be a rifle. ... Defendants forced Mr. Butler to lie face down on the snowy ground. ... At least one defendant had his knee pressed into Mr. Butler’s back and at least one defendant was pressing down on Mr. Butler’s neck."

The filing says Butler was told by officers he was being arrested for resisting arrest, and that the officers had no justification for continuing to detain him.

He was patted down by officers and picked up and forced into the back of a squad car, according to the lawsuit.

He was eventually released from police custody after retrieving his ID from the bus, and the suit says he was never told why they detained and arrested him, “particularly after recognizing that he was not the suspect for whom they were searching.”

The lawsuit states the officers did not document the stop and search, which is required under the Illinois Traffic and Pedestrian Stop Statistical Study Act, 625 ILCS 5/11-212. The officers also did not, according to the lawsuit, provide Butler with a receipt for the stop and search, which is also required by Illinois law.

Following the incident, Butler says he has been traumatized by the incident and has felt angry, scared and depressed, and has suffered emotional distress.

The lawsuit says, “Mr. Butler tried to keep a positive outlook and not think about this frightening incident, but his emotions still surfaced. He became acutely aware of the presence of police officers, and seemingly innocuous events would trigger feelings of fear and anxiety.”

Rachel Murphy, an ACLU Illinois staff attorney said, "He is still dealing with it. It has a serious impact on his well-being and it is something that I think anyone who has gone through or would go through, I think the impact is going to last a long time."

TV6 Investigates has reached out to the departments of all parties named in the lawsuit.

The East Moline Police Department has issued a statement regarding the lawsuit.

It reads: "East Moline Police Officer Travis Staes has been named as a defendant in a civil lawsuit filed by Jaylan Butler and attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). A Hampton police officer, two Rock Island County Sheriff’s Department deputies, and two unknown officers are also named in the lawsuit. The incident involving Mr. Butler did not occur in the City of East Moline. At the time of the events alleged in the lawsuit, Officer Staes was assisting in a search for an armed suspect that reportedly shot at a vehicle on Interstate 80. The suspect crashed his vehicle a short distance from the area where the encounter with Mr. Butler occurred and the suspect fled on foot, he was apprehended later that evening.

The lawsuit filed by Mr. Butler portrays a version of events that is inconsistent with the version of events we have uncovered in our initial review. Due to the pending lawsuit, I am not able to comment in detail, but I can confirm that Officer Staes did have a brief encounter with Mr. Butler and he handled that encounter properly, lawfully, and in accordance with the policies and procedures of the East Moline Police Department.

At this early stage of litigation, I encourage our residents not to jump to conclusions based on what has been portrayed in the media and language of the lawsuit. I am confident that the allegations against Officer Staes are without merit.

Sheriff Gerry Bustos of the Rock Island County Sheriff's Office also released a statement to TV6, which reads:

"On Monday, January 27th, 2020 the Rock Island County Sheriff's Office was served with a lawsuit filed 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.

Prior to filing the litigation, the Rock Island County Sheriff's Office was unaware that any incident or use of force had occurred. Upon receipt of the lawsuit, a preliminary fact filing was conducted, which determined that Deputies Pena and Asquini arrived after Mr. Butler had already been detained by officers from other agencies, having only brief interaction with Mr. Butler and other officers, leaving shortly thereafter to continue the manhunt for a fugitive in the area that was in process.

At this time, I am confident that the allegations against Deputies Pena and Asquini are without merit."

The Rock Island County State's Attorney's Office has confirmed they were served with the lawsuit filed on behalf of Butler.

The State's Attorney's Civil Division says they have entered their appearance and will be defending Deputies Pena and Asquini, the Rock Island County Sheriff's Deputies.

"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," the release said.

The Hampton Police Department has referred TV6 to their legal counsel. TV6 has reached out for a statement but has not yet heard back.

TV6 has requested any body camera and dash camera footage from the incident from all departments named in the suit.

You can read the legal document below. App users: You can find the link at this link.

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