October 22, 2020

College Student Gets Thrown On The Ground And A Gun Pointed At His Head For Committing The Crime Of ‘Taking A Selfie While Black’

The latest crime to result in civil litigation is “taking a selfie while black.” Doing so in Illinois gets your face pushed in the snow, a knee in your back, and a gun held to your head. (via Simple Justice)

Jaylan Butler was traveling back from a swim meet in South Dakota with the EIU swim team. During a break at an East Moline rest stop, the bus driver suggested Butler take a selfie in front of the “BUCKLE UP, IT’S THE LAW” sign at the rest stop.

This somehow prompted all law enforcement hell to break loose. From Butler’s lawsuit [PDF]:

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


After only a few steps, several law enforcement vehicles with flashing lights suddenly pulled up in front of him.


When Mr. Butler saw the law enforcement vehicles pull up, he was surprised and confused, but knew what to do. He instantly stopped, put his hands up, dropped the cell phone that was in his hand, and dropped to his knees.


Defendants exited the vehicles with their firearms pointed at Mr. Butler. At least one Defendant was carrying what appeared to be a rifle.

Defendants shouted at Mr. Butler: “Get down!” and “Don’t fucking move! Stay right there!” Mr. Butler kept his hands up and complied with Defendants’ orders.

Defendants forced Mr. Butler to lie face down on the snowy ground.

On information and belief, Defendants Staes, Asquini, Pena, and additional Defendants held Mr. Butler down while Defendant Bush handcuffed his arms behind his back.

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.

Another Defendant was squatting down in front of Mr. Butler. He put his handgun against Mr. Butler’s forehead and said, “If you keep moving, I’m going to blow your fucking head off.”

This impromptu show of force somehow involved officers from three different law enforcement agencies. The whole thing played out in front of several witnesses and no officer bothered to explain why they suspected a student in an EIU jacket to be worthy of guns-out force deployment while standing a few feet away from an EIU bus manned by an EIU bus driver.

In the absence of any explanations from the involved agencies, this appears to be intra-agency cooperation at its worst, where every officer has the same bias towards black males.

Everything about this gets worse when you read Barb Ickes’ article for the Rock Island Dispatch-Argus. (We’ll assume she did not write the unfortunate headline that tries to exonerate everyone currently being sued.) Not a single officer or official can explain what happened or why it happened. There is not a coherent answer to be found in this report.

The Rock Island Sheriff’s Department’s lawyer denies the two Does listed as defendants were involved in this incident. The attorney offered no comment about the two named Rock Island deputies. According to the attorney, the Rock Island officers were called in to assist Henry County Sheriff’s deputies. This assertion was not backed by the Henry County Sheriff.

Henry County Sheriff Kerry Loncka looked up records from Feb. 24 and said no reports were filed by Henry County deputies.

I guess a guns-out stop that results only in Constitutional violations isn’t worth noting. The sheriff speculated it might have had something to do with a report of a driver shooting at another vehicle but the suspect went into Rock Island county before crashing his car and the sheriff had no further details.

The Rock Island Sheriff was also mostly unaware of what happened that night.

Rock Island County Sheriff Gerry Bustos said he knew little about the incident but said he was not, as the officers who arrested Butler are said to have claimed, responding to an active-shooter event that night.

The only thing even close to an “active shooter” on the books that night was a call about a 10-year-old playing with a toy gun down by the railroad tracks, which was resolved by a deputy speaking to the child’s parents.

The Henry County Sheriff also said his deputies asked for Rock Island’s assistance after being asked by the Illinois State Police to assist in whatever it was that no involved agency can clearly state they were combining forces to handle. The State Police have refused to offer any comment on this incident. And it’s now stonewalling requests for information about its involvement in the arrest/assault of Jaylan Butler.

In response to a Freedom of Information Act request seeking records that would explain what police were responding to when they mistakenly took Butler into custody, a FOIA officer responded that no information could be supplied without the name and date of birth of the person arrested.

Despite objections that the FOIA request sought only incident reports related to the events of Feb. 24, the FOIA officer did not respond. A public information officer for the Illinois State Police said last week that she would try to help provide information “ASAP.” Five days later, no information was provided.

Even if we assume the drive-by shooting that appears to be a post facto rationalization for the treatment of Butler is actually true, it still makes no sense. Why would officers assume a person wearing an EIU jacket standing near an EIU bus full of other students wearing EIU jackets is the shooter they were looking for? Why were they at the rest stop in the first place? This speculation does us no good, but the shittiest part of this is that we shouldn’t need to be engaging in speculation in the first place. The involved agencies should have had an answer for what happened here, but between the three of them, not a single person could explain what happened here, much less why it happened.

We’re not going to get a real answer from these agencies, not even under oath. What it looks like is probably what is, as Scott Greenfield explains.

No matter how you twist this, when the deputy put the one black guy on the ground and uttered the words taught in every police academy everywhere, “If you move, I’ll blow your fucking (expletive added) head off,” there was no excuse, rational or not, credible or not, offered. They couldn’t even be bothered to make up a lie. Maybe, in response to Butler’s suit, they’ll get another chance to come up with something to at least pretend it wasn’t pure, unadulterated racism.

No officer is going to testify that they saw a black male and made their move, presuming they’d find something to justify the stop and use of force later. But, in the deafening absence of any explanation that fits the most minimal definition of the word “credible,” it’s not at all far-fetched to assume the officers think “black” is the same thing as “suspicious.”
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