FBI reviewing case of St. Paul cop shown on video kicking suspect

  • Article by: CHAO XIONG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 5, 2012 - 2:24 PM

The FBI is looking at the case to determine if there were any civil rights violations.

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

Photo: ., Courtesy YouTube.com

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The FBI is reviewing the actions of a St. Paul police officer who kicked a man to determine if there were any civil rights violations.

The review is not an official investigation, and is standard in such cases, said FBI spokesman Kyle Loven. The FBI's review is independent of an internal affairs investigation being conducted by the police department into actions filmed and posted to YouTube showing Officer Jesse Zilge kicking a man under arrest. Zilge and a second officer are on paid administrative leave pending the internal investigation.

"In general, we don't see a lot of these types of incidents come our way in Minnesota," said Loven, adding that he could not recall the last time a similar case arose in his 13 years with the local FBI office.

Loven declined to discuss how the FBI investigates such cases, or provide a timeframe for when the office will decide whether an official investigation is necessary.

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

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.

"It seems very disappointing that he got the [St. Paul] job with that history, and here we are with the new job and he's got a repeat," said Jeffry Martin, NAACP president in St. Paul. "It doesn't help the situation."

Zilge worked for St. Paul Park, a city of about 5,300 residents in south Washington County, from 2005 until he left to join the St. Paul police in 2008.

Zilge is on paid leave pending an investigation into an Aug. 28 incident in the North End neighborhood that was recorded and posted on YouTube. Zilge is shown kicking Eric R. Hightower in the chest as he lies on the sidewalk and then handcuffing him. The video showed a second officer help Zilge walk Hightower, 30, to a squad car, where they slammed his head onto the hood.

The St. Paul Park incident was investigated by a sergeant, who interviewed witnesses, Zilge and the man who alleged the misconduct. According to that report: Zilge was on patrol on Feb. 14, 2006, when he saw three men. He approached them on suspicion that one had a warrant for his arrest.

Zilge questioned Troy Drusch about the whereabouts of another man. Drusch told the sergeant that Zilge called him "no good" and "a good-for-nothing piece of dirt," according to the report. "Officer Zilge advised he and Drusch exchanged words about his character and may have stated he was a 'marked man,'" the sergeant wrote.

Zilge was also investigating a theft from a car, and confronted Drusch about it.

"No, I don't steal," Drusch said.

"That would be like saying I'm not a cop," Zilge replied, according to the report.

Zilge got into his car to leave when Drusch called him a "smart ass," the report said. Zilge approached Drusch on foot.

"Drusch states Officer Zilge grabbed his jacket and stated, 'Do you want to go to jail? I'll take you to jail right now,'" the sergeant wrote. "Officer Zilge stated he placed his hands on Drusch's shoulders and stated, 'Quit being a punk, covering up for other kids.'"

Drusch said Zilge pushed him against a car and threw him to the ground.

"Officer Zilge states Drusch did bump into the vehicle and Drusch did fall to the ground," the sergeant wrote. "Officer Zilge states he did not push Drusch to the ground and that he was not trying to harm Drusch."

Two witnesses supported Drusch's version, the sergeant wrote.

Monahan issued Zilge a written reprimand and extended his one-year probation for new hires by six months.

Zilge was also given a verbal warning in January 2006 for "illegible writing/following direction" at St. Paul Park.

"I'm surprised [St. Paul] would invest in somebody with any history like that," Hightower's attorney, Seamus Mahoney, said Tuesday.

In the city of St. Paul, Zilge was given an oral reprimand in 2009 for improper police procedure. Information on the case wasn't available. His St. Paul file also includes two letters of recognition from Chief Thomas Smith.

Zilge was a community service officer and police officer in another Washington County city, Newport, from August 2002 to May 2004. He did not have a record there.

Officer Matthew Gorans is also on paid leave in connection with Hightower's arrest. Police declined to identify him in the video, citing the ongoing investigation. Gorans was disciplined by Smith in 2010 for excessive force but received a letter of recognition from the chief in 2012. Details of the 2010 case were not available.

Hightower was arrested for threatening his ex-girlfriend and was charged with aggravated stalking, terroristic threats and property damage.

Chao Xiong • 612-270-4708 Twitter: @ChaoStrib

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