St. Paul man in arrest video charged with threat

  • Article by: ANTHONY LONETREE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 1, 2012 - 5:11 PM

Incident involving ex-girlfriend led to arrest posted on YouTube that shows St. Paul police officer kicking suspect.

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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 man whose video-recorded arrest spurred an internal police investigation was charged on Thursday with aggravated stalking, terroristic threats and property damage after allegedly threatening his ex-girlfriend.

The woman, with whom the suspect, Eric R. Hightower, 30, had a child who died soon after birth, told police that she had tried to distance herself from him but that he learned her new address and was peppering her with threatening phone calls, the charges say.

Last Friday, officers responded to a report that Hightower was threatening to break windows in the woman's home and arrived to find a hole in a large double-paned window outside her bedroom. Police also recorded at least seven messages Hightower had left on the woman's phone, including one in which he warned that she was "about to get" her head blown off. He later admitted to leaving his ex-girlfriend messages but told police that he would never hurt her and did not know her address.

A police officer caught up with Hightower on Tuesday, and in a video posted on YouTube, the officer is seen kicking Hightower in the chest and with the help of another officer slamming him onto a squad car. On Wednesday, officer Jesse Zilge was put on paid administrative leave and Chief Thomas Smith vowed an expedited investigation.

According to personnel files, Zilge was orally reprimanded for an improper procedure during an incident in January 2009. In the years since Zilge was certified as an officer in 2008, he has received seven commendations, including two letters of recognition from Chief Smith this year.

The secondary responding officer, Steven Petron, who has been with the department since 2001, was orally reprimanded in two separate occasions in 2004 and 2003. He received a written reprimand in February 2003 for violating department policy.

In a statement released on Thursday, St. Paul Police Federation President Dave Titus reminded "the community and its leaders" to wait until all the facts emerged before making a judgment.

"Once this process is complete, we believe the facts will show that a good cop was in a dangerous situation with a known dangerous individual," Titus said. "The video footage captured by an onlooker does not provide complete context of the incident."

Relatives and friends who attended Hightower's first appearance in court on Thursday said the video was shocking. "I just don't feel like it was proper tactics," said a cousin, Antoine Hightower. "When you're not resisting, you're not resisting."

Hightower was released from jail on Thursday evening. Knocks on his door were not answered.

His attorney, Seamus Mahoney, said Hightower went to see a doctor after getting out of jail for treatment of injuries from the arrest. Hightower will pursue civil action after addressing the criminal charges, his lawyer said.

"The bottom line is that he didn't deserve to be beaten like this," Mahoney said.

Hightower has a previous misdemeanor conviction for violating an order for protection in Dakota County in 2007. He was awaiting sentencing on Sept. 14 in Ramsey County 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 resisted arrest in an incident near his Winnipeg Avenue home on the night of June 18. The officer had to use an "electronic control device" to subdue him, the charges in that case say.

Staff writers Nicole Norfleet and Chao Xiong contributed to this report. Anthony Lonetree • 612-875-0041

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