"If you move, I'll blow your (expletive) head off."
That's what 19-year-old Jaylan Butler said police told him last year, with guns pointed at his head near an East Moline rest stop.
The Eastern Illinois University student was on a bus, headed back to Charleston, Ill., with his teammates after a swim meet in South Dakota when he was accosted by several law enforcement officers in what has turned into a lawsuit alleging civil rights violations.
The ACLU of Illinois filed the suit, naming officers from East Moline, Hampton and Rock Island County as defendants. Two others, who could not be identified, also were named.
Butler says he never resisted, never did anything that could be mistaken as a threat, yet he says one officer had a knee in his back, and his head was held down. If he moved, he said, he was told he'd be killed. The bus driver says he heard this, too.
Rock Island County Sheriff Gerry Bustos says his deputies arrived after Butler was detained by officers from other agencies and their interaction with him was brief. He says they are innocent of the allegations.
The lawsuit will hopefully apply justice, but the allegations themselves are harrowing enough that there ought to be a thorough and independent investigation into this incident. And given the number of area law enforcement agencies involved — two police departments, two county sheriff's departments and the state police — we think it warrants the involvement of the Justice Department.
Butler says he was only outside the team bus taking a selfie when he was set upon. The lawsuit and this newspaper's reporting indicate authorities were searching for somebody else and Butler, who is black, was mistakenly thought to be involved.
The lawsuit, however, alleges that even after it was clear Butler wasn't their man, the young man was detained and told he was being arrested for resisting arrest.
There are so many troubling aspects to this, not least the alleged threats. In addition, though, the lawsuit says the officers involved did not document the stop, and Butler says he was ignored at the scene when he said he wanted to file a complaint.
Our efforts to get more information also have been stonewalled.
With the county now the target of a lawsuit, it's clear that if the public is going to get answers outside a courtroom, it will require a thorough and independent investigation.
We believe our elected leaders, at all levels, ought to demand it.
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