Black community leaders in St. Paul, Minnesota, are criticizing local police after the violent arrest of a stalking suspect surfaced on YouTube.
Authorities charged 30-year-old Eric R. Hightower on Thursday with aggravated stalking, terroristic threats and property damage against his ex-girlfriend following his arrest on Tuesday, during which an officer was filmed kicking him and then, with another officer, slamming him head-first onto the hood of a police car.
According to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, a group of representatives from local civic groups and churches denounced the use of “street justice” in Hightower’s arrest and asked residents to report similar encounters to prove it wasn’t an isolated incident.
“If that video hadn’t been taken, would we even know Eric Hightower’s name? “said Jeffry Martin, president of the St. Paul chapter of the NAACP.
The video starts after Hightower is laying on the ground, with Officer Jesse Zilge standing over him. Hightower shouts, “What are you arresting me for?” The unidentified person filming the video says Zilge pulled up and maced him.
Then, as Hightower is coughing away from Zilge, Zilge can clearly be seen kicking him in the chest. CNN reports that Zilge has been placed on paid administrative leave.
Seconds later, as Zilge is placing Hightower’s arms behind his back to handcuff him, Zilge tells an off-camera witness he had beat up a woman.
“I ain’t even been around here!” Hightower answers, angrily. “You’re f-cking lying!”
Then, as Zilge and an unidentified second officer are pulling Hightower to his feet, Hightower curses at him again, at which point the two officers slam him onto the hood of the patrol car. The second officer has also been placed on administrative leave, though authorities did not release his name.
The president of the St. Paul Police Federation, the union representing Zilge, released a statement saying the video doesn’t tell the whole story behind Hightower or his arrest.
“Once this process is complete, we believe the facts will show that a good cop was in a dangerous situation with a known dangerous individual,” Dave Titus said in the statement. “The video footage captured by an onlooker does not provide complete context of the incident and by no means demonstrates how the officer perceived the threat at hand.”
Authorities told CNN St. Paul Police Chief Tom Smith ordered an investigation into the incident after he “found that the video images raised questions about use of force.”
Hightower is currently free on $35,000 bail. He is scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 14 for separate felony assault and drug possession charges.
The footage of Hightower’s arrest, posted on YouTube earlier this week, can be seen below.