No felony assault charges for 2 St. Paul police officers

Published 9:16 am Friday, November 30, 2012

MINNEAPOLIS — Two St. Paul police officers will not be charged with felony assault after an arrest captured on video shows one of them kicking a man, a prosecutor said Thursday.

Olmsted County Attorney Mark Ostrem said there was “insufficient proof” the officers used unreasonable force.

A video of the August arrest posted by a citizen on YouTube shows Officer Jesse Zilge kicking Eric Hightower as Hightower lay on the ground. Zilge was then able to handcuff Hightower, Ostrem said in a news release.

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The prosecutor said Officer Matthew Gorans used chemical spray to subdue Hightower in the back of the squad car.

Hightower was resisting being placed in the backseat of the squad car by two other officers, Ostrem said. Gorans crawled across the backseat, grabbed the handcuffed Hightower and pulled his upper body into the car and across the seat, but Hightower’s feet were still outside the car. Gorans then sprayed Mace into Hightower’s face and right ear, and the officers were able to get him completely into the seat, Ostrem said.

The prosecutor noted that Minnesota law authorizes law officers to use reasonable force when attempting to arrest a person.

“The law is designed to prevent after-the-fact second guessing about the actions of officers on the streets who may have to make the decision to act quickly,” Ostrem wrote.

In a statement, St. Paul Police Federation President Dave Titus said the prosecutor’s decision shows that the officers “acted in good faith and according to their training.”

“The officers relied on their training to control the situation,” Titus said.

Zilge and Gorans were placed on paid administrative leave after the video appeared. They have since returned to work but are not on patrol.

St. Paul police spokesman Howie Padilla declined comment on the prosecutor’s decision, saying there is still an internal investigation. He said no decision has been made on whether to refer the case to the St. Paul city attorney’s office for possible misdemeanor charges.

Hightower, who is accused of threatening to kill his ex-girlfriend, has been charged with stalking, terroristic threats and criminal damage to property. Hightower’s attorney, Seamus Mahoney, has said his client plans to sue over the arrest.

Mahoney did not immediately return a phone message for comment Thursday evening, but he has said Hightower was traumatized by the experience, and suffered ear pain, headaches and swelling in his chest.

Ramsey County referred the case to Olmsted County to avoid a conflict of interest.