Video shows St. Paul cop kicking man

A bystander's recording shows suspect was lying on sidewalk when a St. Paul officer dealt first blow.

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The St. Paul Police Department is investigating after a video posted Wednesday on YouTube.com showed an officer kicking a man.

Photo: ., Courtesy YouTube.com

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A St. Paul police officer is under investigation after city leaders expressed concerns about a video that shows him kicking a suspect in the chest and slamming his head into a squad car.

Police Chief Thomas Smith said he called for an expedited investigation when the video, made during an arrest on Tuesday evening, came to his attention Wednesday morning.

Officer Jesse Zilge, who is the only officer seen in the first half of the video, was put on paid administrative leave.

"We are taking this investigation very serious," Smith said. "I want to know what happened from start to finish in this instance, and the biggest piece, the public has a right to know as well."

The five-minute video shows a man, identified in a police report as Eric R. Hightower, 30, on his stomach on the sidewalk as an officer stands over him. Hightower yells that he didn't do anything. At one point, he starts to cough and the officer appears to kick him near his neck.

Several people, including children, who gathered at the scene yelled at the officer.

"He beat up a woman last night," the officer says. "Calm down."

The officer handcuffs the man and with the help of another officer, gets him up and appears to slam his head on the hood of a squad car. Other officers then arrive.

The voice of the person recording the video says, "He done sprayed him, maced him, tased him."

"The video of a St. Paul police officer striking a suspect raises serious questions about the conduct of the officer," St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman said in a statement.

Smith said the department is investigating the onlookers' claims. Zilge's police report, written about two hours after Hightower's arrest lists "hands/fists/feet, taser and chemical" under the "weapons used by police" section.

Hightower had an order issued for his arrest because he made a threat about possibly injuring or killing someone he had a relationship with, Smith said.

The report lists the reasons for his arrest as felony assault, including terroristic threats, obstructing the legal process and criminal damage to property.

Hightower has not been charged, but Ramsey County attorney's office spokesman Dennis Gerhardstein said that the office expects to issue charges Thursday.

Zilge's personnel record was not immediately available. Smith said he didn't know whether the officer had any disciplinary actions in his record and promised answers soon.

"I'm very concerned about this situation," Smith said.

Angela Hulbert, 33, of St. Paul, posted the video on YouTube Wednesday morning when one of Hightower's friends sent it to her.

"That was so uncalled for, what they did to him," said Hulbert, an acquaintance of Hightower. "That there was just crazy."

Hulbert said she called the mayor's office Wednesday morning, and she said the office sent the video to internal affairs. Hulbert said she also then spoke to someone in internal affairs.

Hulbert didn't witness the incident, but two of her children saw it unfold.

According to Ramsey County District Court records, Hightower is to be sentenced on Sept. 14 for separate felony cases involving third-degree assault and fifth-degree drug possession.

He also pleaded guilty on June 22 to a gross misdemeanor charge of obstructing the legal process -- interfering with a police officer -- when he turned his back on an officer and then resisted arrest on June 18 after being approached near his residence, on Winnipeg Avenue. The officer in the case was attempting to arrest Hightower on a warrant.

Hightower refused to get on the ground and pulled a hand away from the officer, the charges said. The officer deployed an "electronic control device in order to get the defendant to comply in the increasingly dangerous situation," according to those charges.

"I grew up in St. Paul having full confidence in the St. Paul Police Department," Coleman said. "I have high expectations for the department and its employees. We will fully investigate and take appropriate action."

Staff writer Tony Lonetree contributed to this report. nicole.norfleet@startribune.com • 612-673-4495; Twitter: @stribnorfleet chao.xiong@startribune.com • 612-270-4708; Twitter: @ChaoStrib

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