A Black Eastern Illinois University student is seeking justice after being wrongfully arrested, threatened, and assaulted while on a trip with his swimming team after competing at a conference championship. Jaylan Butler was singled out among his teammates and placed in handcuffs by police officers in Quad Cities, a region of four cities in Iowa and Illinois, according to QCOnline.
The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit out of Chicago on Butler’s behalf, accusing the officers of “unlawful search and seizure, false arrest, excessive detention, excessive force, failure of bystander officers to intervene in unconstitutional conduct, and assault,” according to the report.
Butler and his teammates stopped at a rest area in East Moline, Illinois on Feb. 24, 2019 as they were returning to Charleston, Illinois. Arrangements had been made to meet with the parents of one of Butler’s teammates at the bus rest stop across the Illinois border. Butler said they got off the hot bus to stretch their legs. The swimming coach suggested the team take a photo while wearing their EIU team apparel in front of a “BUCKLE UP, IT’S THE LAW” sign, as they had been taking pictures throughout the trip and sharing on social media to inform their parents and others of their whereabouts.
“As I took the picture, there was a line of police officers … they came to a screeching stop in front of me,” Butler recounted. “At that moment, I only knew a couple things to do that my dad always told me.”
The now-20-year-old college student said he remembered what his father had told him in the past, which was to not let give police a reason to think he was trouble. He then proceeded to put his phone down, raised his hands, and got on the ground.
The driver operating the team’s coach bus, which had the school’s name on it, said he knew something was wrong. Todd Slingerland said he was sitting in the driver’s seat waiting for the parents to arrive and Jaylen was the last member of the team to get back on the bus. “A car screamed in, and I jumped out of the bus, knowing something was going down that shouldn’t be going down. As I got out, a second police car came screaming in,” he said.
Two officers had Butler on the ground with his face in the snow, while an officer had his knee in his back. One of the officers was pointing a rifle and another had a gun pointed at his head. Butler said an officer told him, “If you move, I’ll blow your (expletive) head off.”
Slingerland heard the threat as well. He told the officers they were making a mistake and that Butler was a passenger on the bus. Slingerland said he yelled for the team’s coach and shortly after, two more police cars arrived.
One officer claimed Butler was going to be arrested for resisting and when Slingerland questioned the arrest, he said their excuse was they thought Butler was holding the bus hostage.
“I told them to get the sheriff over there because this was a very big mistake,” Slingerland said. “They said the sheriff was busy with an active-shooter event.”
There were officers on the scene from Illinois’ Rock Land County, East Moline and Hampton police departments. The identity of two of the officers, however, is unclear as they were identified in Butler’s lawsuit as John Does.
The ACLU lawsuit states that Butler asked two of the officers for their badge numbers, but his request went unanswered. “Mr. Butler informed at least two defendants (officers) that he wanted to make a complaint. The first defendant ignored him. The second defendant said, ‘There’s nothing I can do,’” the lawsuit alleges.
The lawsuit also said that once the officers realized they had made a mistake, they informed a local dispatcher that it was a “false alarm.” While still handcuffed, they allowed Butler to get up after being face down on the ground – in the snow.
The officers told Butler that he was being arrested for resisting arrest. He was taken to a squad car and patted down, his coat pockets were searched, and he was placed in the back of a squad car, according to the lawsuit.
Butler’s handcuffs were removed in order for him to retrieve his identification from the team bus. After identifying himself, he was released from police custody.
It is unclear what the officers were looking for.
Rock Island County State’s Attorney Dora Villarreal, who will be defending the two of the officers identified in the lawsuit, said the officers were responding to a report of an incident in Henry County. Meanwhile, Henry County Sheriff Kerry Loncka said there was no report of an incident. Call logs suggested that Illinois State Police asked for Henry County’s help in tracking down a man in a vehicle, who shot at a truck, QCOnline reports.
Rock Island County Sheriff Gerry, who knew few details of the incident, also said that he was not responding to a call of an active-shooter, contrary to what officers told Slingerland.
The police records indicate that the alleged assailant got into a car wreck in Rock Island County, but there were no additional details.
The case has also been given the runaround as information is not being provided. The Freedom of Information Act requested information into Butler’s arrest but was told information could not be supplied without the name and date of birth of the person arrested. An attempt to seek help from an Illinois State Police public information officer was unsuccessful as well.
Butler, who is understandably traumatized according to the lawsuit, said he tried to hide his anguish in front of his teammates, but it didn’t last.
“I was their first African American teammate — the first swimmer they’d seen of color,” he said.
Butler was encouraged by his coach to call his parents and inform them of what happened. He said they were “were angry and upset” about what happened to him.”
He added, “A kid like me, who has stayed on the straight and narrow, could’ve been killed. I didn’t resist at all. I complied before they told me to do anything.”