Incident reports from the law enforcement officers who detained college swimmer Jaylan Butler at gunpoint are inconsistent with early court claims by the same officers, SwimSwam’s FOIA requests show.
Butler, an Eastern Illinois University swimmer, was taken the ground at gunpoint and handcuffed by police officers in February of 2019 when they mistook Butler for a suspect they were pursuing. The EIU team bus had stopped at a rest area in Illinois, and police handcuffed Butler, the only Black member of the EIU swim team, before realizing he wasn’t the suspect they were pursuing. (You can find a more detailed background of the incident below).
Butler is suing six officers over the incident, and though the officers have roundly denied the allegations in court, their own police reports, obtained by SwimSwam through FOIA requests, admit many of the details the officers now deny.
Butler’s lawsuit names four officers and includes two unnamed officers. Butler says he told officers the night of the incident that he wanted to file a complaint, but they refused to provide names or department associations. Four of the officers in the incident have been identified, but two still remain unknown and are listed in the lawsuit only as “John Does 1 and 2.”
The manhunt that night included at least three different law enforcement agencies working together.
The four named officers have all been confirmed to have been involved in an interaction with Butler that night through their own police reports:
- Jack Asquini, Rock Island County Sheriff’s Deputy
- Jason Pena, Rock Island County Sheriff’s Deputy
- Travis Staes, East Moline Police Officer
- Ethan Bush, Hampton Police Officer (former)
In official court responses, all four officers have denied nearly all of Butler’s claims. But many specific allegations are confirmed, or in some way referred to, in the officers’ police reports, obtained by SwimSwam through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests.
Butler’s lawsuit says that officers pulled up in police vehicles with emergency lights on, getting out of the cars and pointing guns at Butler.
Staes’ court response flatly denies nearly all allegations in Butler’s lawsuit, including the claim that officers exited their cars with guns pointed at Butler. But Staes’ own police report of the night admits that both he and Bush pointed guns at Butler:
“Officer Bush began ordering the suspect to the ground at gunpoint. I pointed my department issued handgun at the subject and began giving him orders as well.”
Bush quibbles with Butler’s specific recollection that one officer “was carrying what appeared to be a rifle.” Bush says in court documents that he had a firearm which was not a rifle. On the other hand, Bush’s police report specifically points out that his officer-worn body camera was turned off during much of the manhunt “due to equipment, including the AR-15 sling, making contact with the on/off switch and turning the camera off.”
Bush goes on in court documents to say he “lacks sufficient knowledge or information” to address the rest of Butler’s allegations about being taken down at gunpoint. In contrast, Bush’s memory was clearer when he wrote his original police report:
“As we pulled next to the bus we observed a black male, wearing a black coat with his hood up… At this time I parked the squad [car] with both Officer Staes and I drawing our weapons on the individual.”
Asquini and Pena both deny the gunpoint allegation. Their police report, written by Asquini, says the two didn’t see or become involved in the incident until other officers already had Butler in handcuffs on the ground.
Officer threatening to shoot:
One of the more notable pieces of the lawsuit is Butler’s allegation that officers threatened to shoot him.
“If you keep moving, I’m going to blow your fucking head off,” one of the officers told Butler, according to his lawsuit.
All four officers denied that specific claim. But Bush’s police report does confirm that officers threatened to shoot Butler:
From Bush’s report: “The individual was advised to put his hands in the air and to get on the ground or that he would be shot.”
Staes’ report also confirms that he pointed his gun at Butler. Deputies Asquini and Pena don’t mention pointing their guns in their report. But Todd Slingerland, who was driving the EIU team bus that night, told local newspaper The Rock Island Dispatch-Argus that he was certain that it was a Rock Island County sheriff’s deputy who put a gun to Butler’s head and threatened to shoot him.
“I’m an old Navy man,” said Slingerland in the Dispatch-Argus story. “I’ve seen a lot, but I’ve never seen anybody screw something up as bad as they did this, especially the first two (officers).”
Handcuffed on ground:
Butler claims he was handcuffed and held facedown in the snow. In court documents, Bush admits that Butler was “handcuffed while lying face down on the ground.” This detail was not noted in Bush’s original police report.
Staes, Asquini, and Pena all deny the claim. Asquini’s police report says that he “observed one East Moline Officer and one Hampton officer engaged in what appeared to be a struggle with a single individual.” Asquini’s report says that when he arrived on the scene, “the subject” was in handcuffs and lying on the ground.
Knee on Butler’s back:
Butler’s lawsuit claims that one officer “had his knee pressed into Mr. Butler’s back, and at least one Defendant was pressing down on Mr. Butler’s neck.” Those are allegations that have taken on extra significance since a Black man in Minnesota, George Floyd, was killed in police custody when a white police officer, Derek Chauvin, pressed his knee into the back of Floyd’s neck for nearly eight minutes until Floyd lost consciousness.
All four officers denied Butler’s claims entirely in court documents. But Asquini’s original report had already admitted that he did press his knee into a suspect’s back. Asquini’s report never references Butler by name, but says the incident happened in a rest area with a large transport bus.
Asquini says he and Pena saw two officers with a person in handcuffs, and that the officers asked him to help “secure the subject” while they went to speak with the bus driver.
“I placed my right knee on the subject’s lower back,” Asquini writes. After speaking to the bus driver, the officers returned and told Asquini that “it wasn’t the person who we were searching for,” and Asquini and Pena left the scene.
That lines up with the account given by Slingerland, the driver of Butler’s EIU team bus that night.
Butler’s intent to file complaint:
Butler says he told officers that he wanted to file a complaint. In his lawsuit, he claims one officer ignored him, and the second said “there’s nothing I can do.”
All four officers deny that claim. But Bush’s police report admits that Butler wanted to file a complaint at the time.
“Butler was released, however, cited that he would be filing a complaint due to him believing he was racially profiled,” Bush wrote.
However, in court documents, Bush submitted the following statement: “Defendant denies that he was told Plaintiff [sic] by Plaintiff that he wanted to make a complaint.”
In court documents, all four officers have cited “qualified immunity,” which would protect them from liability for any “reasonable mistakes” made in their interaction with Butler. Bush’s court document denied that Butler “complied with all of the orders he was given.” Staes’ legal defense claimed “resistance” by Butler, arguing that the physical force used against Butler and any injury or damage sustained by Butler were due to Butler’s own conduct.
Neither Staes nor Bush mentioned any resistance by Butler in their original police reports.
- EIU swimmer taken down by police at gunpoint in 2019; ACLU files suit
- Jaylan Butler says George Floyd video ‘snapped me back to my experience’
- SwimSwam Podcast: Jaylan Butler shares how police incident affected his life
On February 24, 2019, Eastern Illinois University was on a team bus returning from the Summit League Championships. When the team stopped at a rest stop near East Moline, Illinois, police mistook Butler – the only black member of the EIU swim & dive team – for a suspect they were pursuing and handcuffed him facedown in the snow. According to a lawsuit filed by the ACLU, an officer had a knee in Butler’s back and another pointed a gun at Butler’s head, threatening to “blow your [expletive]ing head off.”
According to the suit, when officers realized Butler was not their suspect – local media report the suspect was eight inches taller and 70 pounds heavier than Butler – they told him they were arresting him for resisting arrest. The suit says they illegally searched Butler’s pockets and left him handcuffed in the back of a police car for several minutes, only releasing him when he could show identification.
Named Officers Had Prior Discipline, Short Employments
Freedom of Information Act requests into the four named officers showed that one had been previously disciplined for losing drugs, and another was let go from a previous police department after less than three months on the job.
Jason Pena was disciplined in 2014 for losing Rock Island County Sheriff’s Office-owned drugs. Pena told an officer he had taken “dope” from the department’s evidence for use in a K-9 unit training exercise. Pena had another deputy hide the “dope” in his vehicle. But some people approached Pena and the other deputy to talk about the dog, and the two officers became distracted and forgot about the hidden drugs. When they returned to the area, they could not find the “dope.”
Pena was suspended for one day without pay.
Pena has been with the Rock Island County Sheriff’s Office since 2011. Jack Asquini, though, was sworn in just two months before the detainment of Butler, according to the Rock Island County Sheriff’s Facebook page. Asquini’s only record of discipline is a written reprimand for causing a traffic accident in the summer of 2019.
Both remain employed by the Sheriff’s Office.
Travis Staes has been with the East Moline Police Department since January of 2016. He has no complaints or disciplinary measures on his record.
Ethan Bush also has no record of complaints or discipline against him – but he was only employed by the Village of Hampton for 9 months, a representative of the village confirmed. In fact, according to The Quad City Times, Bush began employment on February 1, 2019, and was actually officially sworn in the day after he was involved in the detainment of Butler – February 25, 2019.
He is no longer employed by the Village of Hampton, and the Village had no information on whether Bush is now working in law enforcement somewhere else.
Bush’s 9-month employment with Hampton wasn’t his only short stint with a law enforcement agency. SwimSwam was able to confirm that Bush was employed for just under three months by the Village of Milan in Illinois. Milan Police Chief Shawn Johnson told SwimSwam that Bush “just wasn’t fitting in with us,” and the Village chose to go in a different direction while Bush remained a probationary officer able to be dismissed without cause under Illinois state law.
Bush was with the Village of Milan from September 19, 2017 through December 11, 2017. Johnson said there no complaints or disciplinary measures against Bush during that time.
Prior to his three-month employment in Milan, Bush spent almost three years with the City of Rock Island Police Department. We submitted a FOIA request for complaints against Bush during his time there, but were only provided one complaint register which named three other Rock Island Officers but did not name Bush. Our requests for any clarification or explanation of this document were flatly refused by a City of Rock Island lieutenant.
Civil Suit Allegations Not Included In Employment Records; No Complaints Over Butler Arrest Due To Failure To Provide Officer Names
There are two very notable absences in all four officers’ records. None of the officers’ records reflect the civil lawsuits against them alleging excessive force, false arrest, excessive detention, unlawful search and seizure, assault and battery.
A representative of the Rock Island County Sheriff’s Office said civil suits are not a part of employee files. They were unable to confirm whether they would be included in employee files if the officers were found responsible, or if the case was settled out of court.
Update 7/15: The attorney for Asquini and Pena confirmed that civil lawsuits do not appear in personnel files, but told SwimSwam that Pena has never had a lawsuit filed against him prior to Butler’s, and that Asquini had only had one lawsuit filed against him when he was working for Moline Police Department.
None of the four officers have any record of a complaint about their conduct in detaining Butler in February of 2019. That would suggest that the officers’ refusal to provide names and badge numbers (according to Butler’s lawsuit) did indeed protect them from having a complaint on their record.
Pena Given Award One Month After Butler Detainment
At least one officer was given an award by their department within a month after the detainment of Butler.
Rock Island County Sheriff Gerald Bustos presented Pena with a “life saving award” on March 19, 2019 – less than a month after Pena was involved in arresting Butler. County Board meeting minutes show that Pena was given the award for helping rescue personnel during a June 2018 incident in which a mother and several children went over a dam in a canoe.
Staes was nominated for East Moline Officer of the Year in December of 2018, two months before he was involved in the arrest of Butler, according to the department’s Facebook page.