Community leaders decry video of cop kicking manPublished 2:52pm Saturday, September 1, 2012
ST. PAUL — A coalition of black community and religious leaders gathered Saturday to denounce the actions of a St. Paul police officer who was caught on video kicking a man lying on the ground.
Meanwhile, the man’s attorney said he plans to file a lawsuit over the incident.
Video of the Tuesday arrest of Eric Hightower shows an officer kicked him once in the chest when Hightower was lying on the ground and coughing after he had been sprayed with a chemical irritant. The officer then handcuffs Hightower, drags him to his feet and, with the assistance of another officer, slams Hightower’s head onto the hood of a squad car.
The video, recorded by a citizen, was posted to YouTube on Wednesday.
“This situation is intolerable,” the Rev. Melvin Miller, a pastor at Progressive Baptist Church in St. Paul, said Saturday. “We’re here to speak out against what is clearly an injustice. If it happened to any one of our brothers, sisters, friends, we’d be outraged about it, and rightfully so.”
The video prompted St. Paul Police Chief Thomas Smith to launch an internal investigation and put the officer identified as kicking Hightower, Jesse Zilge, on paid administrative leave. The department announced Friday that a second officer was on paid administrative leave due to new information that surfaced in the investigation.
Records obtained by The Associated Press show the second officer on leave is Matthew Gorans. Details of that new information that led to his leave were not released.
Community leaders believe the swift action by Smith is a start, but they are concerned that trust between the public and police has been damaged beyond repair.
“I think on Wednesday, unfortunately, we erased a lot of history,” said Darryl Spence, a pastor with the St. Paul God Squad.
Hightower’s attorney, Seamus Mahoney, said his client plans to sue. Mahoney has said Hightower was traumatized by the experience, and suffered ear pain, headaches and swelling in his chest.
Hightower attended Saturday’s news conference but did not make a statement.
Hightower, who is accused of threatening to kill his ex-girlfriend, has been charged with stalking, terroristic threats, and criminal damage to property.
The AP has been unable to reach Zilge and Gorans because telephone numbers for them have been disconnected.
St. Paul Police Federation President Dave Titus has said Zilge is a “good cop” and urged the public not to rush to judgment, saying the video does not show the full context of what happened.
On Saturday, community leaders expressed concern over Titus’ statements.
“We support community policing … and we support the police chief, but we support the chief doing the right thing,” said Tyrone Terrill, chairman of the African-American Leadership Council.