A report from a local ABC affiliate says that a 50-minute segment of police bodycam footage of the detainment of Jaylan Butler is missing, with an expert and the bodycam manufacturer casting doubt on the official police explanation.
Background: 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. The ACLU has filed a lawsuit against six officers, claiming they pointed guns at Butler, threatened to shoot him, left him handcuffed facedown in the snow, and at first refused to release him even after realizing he wasn’t their suspect.
Last month, we reported on inconsistencies between official police reports filed by three of the officers and their later responses in court documents. In that story, we noted that former Village of Hampton police officer Ethan Bush wrote in his police report that his body-worn camera was turned off for much of the incident “due to equipment, including the AR-15 sling, making contact with the on/off switch and turning the camera off.”
WQAD8, a TV news station in Moline, Illinois, reported on the bodycam footage this month, noting that a 50-minute segment of the video from Bush’s body-worn camera was missing. That segment contains all of Bush’s interactions with Butler, who claims police pressed a knee into his back and that one officer pointed a gun at his head and threatened to “blow your [expletive]ing head off.”
The story quotes civil rights attorney Dave O’Brien, who called the missing footage “very suspect.”
“It sounds extremely implausible,” O’Brien said of the explanation given for the missing video. “If they’re destroying evidence, that’s a crime.” When asked if he thinks Hampton police destroyed the video footage, O’Brien said “their explanation doesn’t hold water, so my answer to your question is yes.”
WQAD also quotes Axon, the company that makes the body camera Bush was wearing. Axon says it places the on/off button in the center of the device and makes the button concave to eliminate the risk of the button being accidentally pressed. The full Axon statement from the story:
“To our knowledge, this is not an issue that police departments regularly experience and we do not have metrics that track this data. The way in which our body-worn cameras are built allow them to be worn alongside other tactical equipment such as radios without issue. The on/off button resides in the center of the device and is concave to eliminate the risk of it being accidentally tapped.”
Hampton police told WQAD that the news station’s Freedom of Information Act request didn’t require any explanation for the missing footage.
“A FOIA requires the production of documents, not explanations,” the police department said, per the WQAD report. “We have provided you all the video we have on this incident per the previous FOIA request. Therefore, this FOIA request is considered complete and the rest to be improper. You may consult our attorney for explanation.”
We’ve reached out to the village of Hampton for comment, but have not yet received a response.
Bush no longer works for the village, and has a history of short tenures with police forces. Per our previous reporting, Bush spent about 9 months with the village of Hampton. Prior to that, he worked just under three months for the Village of Milan before the department decided Bush “just wasn’t fitting in with us.”
He had previously worked as a police officer for the city of Rock Island (about three years), a correctional officer for the Mercer County Sheriff’s Department (about 7 months), and as part of the military police in Alaska (about four years).
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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.