Police allegedly held a black student at gunpoint. Now the governor wants an investigation

Kristin Lam, USA TODAY
Police allegedly held a black student at gunpoint. Now the governor wants an investigation

The governor of Illinois on Thursday called for an investigation into allegations that police held a black college student at gunpoint after misidentifying him as a suspect.  

Gov. J.B. Pritzker's statement comes after Jaylan Butler, 20, sued the six officers involved for unlawful searches and seizure, excessive force and false arrest on a Sunday night last February. Butler, a swim team member at Eastern Illinois University, said he was walking back to the team bus near a rest stop off Interstate 80 when patrol cars pulled up to him.

He then dropped to his knees, put his hands up and dropped the cell phone he was holding, according to the complaint filed by the ACLU of Illinois, which is representing him. The officers told Butler to get down as they approached with guns drawn, the complaint said, forced him to lie face down and handcuffed him. One officer allegedly put a handgun against Butler's head, threatening to blow his head off, but stopped after the bus driver and swim coach explained he was traveling with the team. 

Jaylan Butler, a student and swim team member at Eastern Illinois University, sued Illinois police officers for alleged wrongful arrest.

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"I’m deeply troubled by what I’ve read about how Jaylan Butler, an African-American athlete at EIU, was mistreated by law enforcement in East Moline," Pritzker said in a statement. "It’s unacceptable for any young person to feel unsafe and disrespected anywhere in this state — but every day, too many young people of color live through it. I urge a thorough and transparent investigation of what took place."

According to the lawsuit, police then told a dispatcher they did not catch the suspect, but told Butler he was under arrest for resisting. The officers allegedly patted him down, put him in the back of a patrol car and released him after checking his identification.

Butler identified the officers as belonging to the Hampton and East Moline police departments, as well as the Rock Island Sheriff's Department. Sheriff Gerald Bustos said his deputies arrived after other officers detained Butler and left after a brief interaction to search for a wanted fugitive in the area. 

"At this time, I am confident that the allegations against Deputies Pena and Asquini are without merit," Bustos said in a statement

East Moline Police Chief Jeff Ramsey also said his officer was searching for a suspect that night. The armed suspect shot another car on Interstate 80, Ramsey said in a statement, and fled on foot after crashing near where the swim team members stopped to stretch their legs. 

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“The lawsuit filed by Mr. Butler portrays a version of events that is inconsistent with the version we have uncovered in our initial review," Ramsey said. "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." 

Hampton Police Chief Terry Engle did not immediately respond to a request for comment Sunday. 

Since the incident last year, Butler has had trouble concentrating on his classes because of the resulting trauma and depression, the lawsuit said. He is seeking unspecified damages. 

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

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Black college student sues Illinois police for alleged gunpoint arrest