St. Paul police on Tuesday released a squad car video confirming that a man shown in a YouTube video being kicked by police during an arrest also was pepper-sprayed in the ear while in the back of a squad car.
Controversial cellphone video of Eric R. Hightower’s arrest last August by police captured officer Jesse Zilge kicking Hightower and, with the help of another officer, slamming him onto the hood of a squad car.
In squad car video released by the St. Paul Police Department this week, another officer drags Hightower into the vehicle by his hair after officers are heard telling Hightower to get into the squad car. After pulling Hightower completely inside, the officer, Matthew Gorans, sprays Mace into Hightower’s ear.
“Ahhh! Ahhh! He sprayed me in my ear. Ahhh!” High-tower screamed.
Throughout the rest of Hightower’s time in the car, he tells police that his eye and ear were hurting him and asks what he did wrong.
“Sir, I’m burning, man! Please hurry up! I’m burning. My eye and my ear!” High-tower yells. He later requests several times for police to wipe his eyes.
Jeff Martin, president of the St. Paul branch of the NAACP, said the video shows “bullies in a badge.” He said the police video was even worse than the first video.
“I think it’s worse because you have a person that’s totally defenseless,” Martin said, noting that Hightower was handcuffed and in the back of a car.
St. Paul police policy says an aerosol subject restraint device should be used, “in the event a uniformed and/or command presence, and/or soft empty-hand options prove ineffective or unfeasible under the circumstances, … in order to achieve a suspect’s control and compliance, and/or in the defense of the officer or others.”
Disciplinary action against Zilge and Gorans is being considered, said St. Paul police spokesman Howie Padilla.
The Olmsted County attorney’s office declined to charge the officers with felony assault, saying there wasn’t enough evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that the two officers used unreasonable force. The Minneapolis city attorney’s office also declined to press criminal charges against Zilge.
St. Paul Police Federation attorney Chris Watchler said in a statement that the release of the video violates state law.
“Any member of the public viewing the video or the pictures out of context and apart from the rest of the investigation and circumstances surrounding the Hightower arrest could easily draw false conclusions about what occurred,” he said. “The officers involved in the Hightower arrest acted within policy, and pursuant to their training.”
Nicole Norfleet • 612-673-4495