Illinois police mistakenly took down college swimmer Jaylan Butler at gunpoint on a team trip home from a 2019 conference meet, a local newspaper reports. That led to a lawsuit filed by the ACLU.
The Dispatch / The Rock Island Argus reports that the Eastern Illinois University swimming & diving team were returning home on a team bus from the 2019 Summit League Championships on February 24, 2019. The meet had taken place in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Just inside the Illinois border, the bus stopped at a rest area and the swimmers got out to stretch their legs.
The Dispatch reports that a coach suggested Butler take a selfie in front of a “Buckle up, it’s the law” sign, in the vein of photos team members had been taking and posting to social media throughout the trip. Butler was wearing his EIU team jacket and taking the photo when he says a line of police cars “came to a screeching stop in front of me.”
Per The Dispatch story: “As a young black man, [Butler] had been taught by his dad to never give police a reason to think he would cause trouble. He remembered the lessons, and he dropped his phone, raised his hands, and got on the ground.”
The team’s bus driver, Todd Slingerland, says he jumped out of the bus when he saw cops arrive, and got out to find two officers holding Butler on the ground with his face pressed into the snow. Slingerland says one cop was pointing a rifle and the other had a gun pointed at Butler’s head saying “If you move, I’ll blow your [expletive] head off.”
The ACLU’s lawsuit says that the officers quickly realized Butler was not the suspect they were looking for. But instead of releasing him, the suit says, the officers refused to uncuff him and told him they were arresting him for resisting arrest. Officers searched his coat pockets and left him in the back of a squad car, eventually releasing him and telling him to get his ID off of the team bus, which had the school’s logo plastered on the sides, per The Dispatch.
Butler says he asked for the badge number of the officer who threatened to kill him, and informed the police that he wanted to file a complaint. But he says the officers ignored him and refused to give him names, badge numbers or affiliations. Making matters more confusing, according to The Dispatch, there were officers present at the rest area from at least three different groups: the Rock Island County Sheriff’s Department, the East Moline Police Department and the Hampton Police Department.
The ACLU lawsuit was filed against six officers, including two who are yet unnamed.
It’s also unclear who the police were looking for that night. The Dispatch reports that the Rock Island County State Attorney said officers were “called in to assist on a Henry County incident.” Henry County told The Dispatch that it had been asked by state police to assist in pursuing a man in a vehicle who shot at a truck on the interstate. That suspected vehicle had gone into Rock Island County and wrecked.
Butler is a sophomore on the EIU swim team from St. Louis, Missouri. His best finish at last year’s Summit League Championships was 20th place in the 100 back in a time of 54.58.