Officer Pointed Gun at Black College Student’s Head, Lawsuit Says

Jaylan Butler and his Eastern Illinois University swim teammates were returning from a championship tournament last year in Sioux Falls, S.D., when their bus driver pulled off Interstate 80 near a rest stop in East Moline, Ill.

It was shortly after 8 p.m. and Mr. Butler, then 19, got out of the bus, which was headed to Charleston, Ill., about 190 miles south of Chicago, to stretch his legs and snap a selfie in front of a “Buckle Up. It’s the Law” road sign.

He was walking back to the bus when several law enforcement vehicles, their lights flashing, pulled up and officers appeared with their guns drawn and pointed at him, according to court records.

Mr. Butler, who was the only black student among the more than 30 on the bus, was “surprised and confused but knew what to do,” court records said. “He instantly stopped, put his hands up, dropped the cellphone that was in his hand and dropped to his knees.”

At least one officer had his knee pushed into Mr. Butler’s back, and another was “pressing down” on his neck, court records said. One officer pressed his handgun to Mr. Butler’s forehead and warned that if Mr. Butler kept moving, the officer would “blow” his “head off,” the court records continued.

The bus driver and a coach got out of the bus and told the officers that Mr. Butler was part of the school’s swim team. Officers patted him down, placed him in the back of a patrol car and eventually removed his handcuffs.

Mr. Butler’s account is the subject of a lawsuit filed last month in federal court in Illinois that cited claims of false arrest, excessive detention and excessive use of force in the Feb. 24, 2019, episode.

Mr. Butler is suing officers from the Hampton and East Moline Police Departments, and deputies from the Rock Island County Sheriff’s Office who were involved.

Jeff J. Ramsey, chief of the East Moline Police Department, said in a statement on Saturday that one of his officers had been searching for a gunman who reportedly had shot at a vehicle on Interstate 80 not far from the encounter with Mr. Butler.

The gunman, who crashed his vehicle, was apprehended later that evening, Chief Ramsey said. He did not provide a description of the person the police were seeking.

“The lawsuit filed by Mr. Butler portrays a version of events that is inconsistent with the version we have uncovered in our initial review,’’ he said. Citing the lawsuit, he declined to comment further on Sunday.

Sheriff Gerald Bustos of Rock Island County said in a news release that before the lawsuit, he “was unaware that any incident or use of force had occurred.”

He said that his two deputies were involved in a “manhunt for a fugitive” in the area at the time, and had arrived after Mr. Butler had been detained by other officers. He said the allegations against his deputies were “without merit.”

Neither the sheriff nor Chief Terry Engle of the Hampton Police Department immediately responded to a request for comment on Sunday.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker of Illinois said on Facebook on Thursday that he was “deeply troubled by” what he had read about the case. He called for a “thorough and transparent investigation.”

Mr. Butler is seeking unspecified damages. Mr. Butler, who is now 20 and a sophomore at the university, was unavailable for comment on Sunday, his lawyer Rachel Murphy said.

“What we are hoping is to hold officers accountable and raise awareness that these kinds of really harmful police interactions happen every day,’’ Ms. Murphy, who is also a staff lawyer with the A.C.L.U., said. “We don’t hear about them and they most often happen to people of color and we can’t tolerate that.”

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