Jaylan Butler, a sophomore swimmer at Eastern Illinois University, has filed a lawsuit against police officers, alleging they held him at gunpoint while he was returning from an out-of-state tournament with his teammates.
According to the lawsuit, Butler was traveling on a bus with his team last February when it pulled over shortly after 8 p.m. to let players stretch their legs.
Butler got out of the bus, took a selfie in front of a roadway sign and was headed back toward the vehicle when several police cars pulled up. The police got out of their vehicles and yelled at Butler to put his hands up and get down. He complied with their orders.
The suit says several officers forced Butler to the snowy ground as he was handcuffed. One of the officers squatted down in front of him, put a gun to his forehead and said, “If you keep moving, I’m going to blow your f—— head off.”
Butler said he first thought it was just a big misunderstanding and tried to stay calm. However, after an officer threatened to shoot him, his thought process shifted.
“I felt numb. I didn’t really know what to expect,” he said.
The coach traveling with the team got out of the bus and told the police officers that Butler was a member of the swim team. Even after the officers realized they made a mistake, they didn’t let him go and put him in the squad car.
“After several minutes of forcing Mr. Butler to lie down on the ground while handcuffed, defendants allowed Mr. Butler to sit up. They did not, however, remove his handcuffs or inform him that he was free to go, even though they had already recognized that Mr. Butler was not the suspect for whom they were searching,” the lawsuit explains.
The officers eventually took the handcuffs off and asked Butler to get his ID from the bus. Once he showed his identification, he was free to go.
The lawsuit alleges that police never told Butler why he was detained and arrested.
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker called on Friday for a “thorough and transparent” investigation into Butler’s arrest.
“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,” he said in a Facebook post. “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.”
The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages.