Police officer suspended earlier for kicking man

  • Article by: NICOLE NORFLEET , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 8, 2012 - 12:19 AM

A St. Paul officer in a videotaped arrest last month was disciplined for a similar incident in 2010.

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Present at Saturday's NAACP news conference were, from left to right, Eric Hightower, the victim in the police-beating video; the Rev. Melvin Miller; St. Paul NAACP President Jeffry Martin; African American Leadership Council chair Tyrone Terrill; the Rev. Darryl Spence, Bishop Kemp and Hightower's attorney, Seamus Mahoney.

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A St. Paul officer involved in an arrest late last month, in which another policeman was videotaped kicking a man on the ground, had been disciplined just months before for delivering the same type of blows to a suspect.

Officer Matthew Gorans was ordered suspended for three days without pay after the St. Paul Police Department's internal affairs unit found that he used excessive force when he kicked and kneed a man several times in the head and neck area outside a bar in 2010, according to internal affairs police records made available Friday.

In a letter to Gorans written in May about the 2010 incident, St. Paul Police Chief Thomas Smith said: "Your actions displayed not only conduct unbecoming a Saint Paul police officer, but actions that indicate a lack of self-control. It is my hope that you will reflect on your actions and resolve to display behavior that is respectful to all and demonstrate self-control whether on duty or off duty." He continued, "Future acts of the same, or similar behavior, will result in increased discipline up to and including termination."

Gorans was placed on paid leave along with officer Jesse Zilge after a video was published on YouTube depicting Zilge kicking a man during an arrest on Aug. 28. In the video, a man identified as Eric Hightower, 30, is handcuffed by Zilge and with the help of another officer is slammed onto the hood of a squad car. Hightower was later charged with aggravated stalking, terroristic threats and property damage after allegedly threatening his ex-girlfriend.

Police have declined to identify Gorans in the video, citing an ongoing internal affairs investigation. They have said new information that surfaced about the incident led them to suspend Gorans as well as Zilge. The FBI is also reviewing the incident.

The 2010 incident

In September 2010, Gorans reported he went to assist in an incident at the Station 4 bar in downtown St. Paul when he saw other officers pursuing a suspect on foot, according to an internal report.

Gorans said the male suspect found in an alley ignored officers' commands to get to the ground and put his hands behind his head, and continued to resist. Gorans said he eventually kneed the suspect in his side, which made him get to the ground. Gorans said he and other officers tried to get the suspect's hands behind his back to handcuff him, but the suspect tried to keep his hands beneath his stomach area to keep from being handcuffed. Gorans said that officers could not determine if the suspect was trying to conceal a weapon.

The suspect "continued to resist by not giving up his hands and fearing for my safety and the safety of the other officers at the scene I continued to strike [the suspect] along his left side and head with my knees and feet 4 to 5 times before he finally gave up his hands and I was able to forcibly cuff him behind his back," Gorans stated.

In May 2011, during a deposition for a lawsuit related to the case, Gorans said he may have struck the suspect four times altogether.

Chief Smith wrote in his letter: "I would expect that as a trained police officer, you would have an understanding of both the legal and physical implications of such actions. I am disappointed in the level of force that was used. With the number of officers and the other force options available, this was both unreasonable and excessive in this case."

Officer Zilge's history

According to internal affairs records, Zilge was orally reprimanded in 2009 for improper procedure after allowing a female passenger with a suspended driver's license to drive a vehicle after a traffic investigation revealed the driver of the vehicle did not have a valid license.

Zilge also was disciplined for pushing an 18-year-old man and throwing him to the ground in 2006 while working as a St. Paul Park officer.

St. Paul Park Police Chief Michael Monahan found Zilge, 31, culpable in that incident. The chief recommended that Zilge undergo additional training in constitutional law and in the use of force after he threatened to jail the man for calling him a "smart ass," according to city police records.

Along with the investigation involving Hightower's highly publicized arrest, there is also an active investigation into another complaint against Zilge reported this year. Information was not immediately available on its nature.

Nicole Norfleet • 612-673-4495 Twitter: @stribnorfleet

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