The Minneapolis City attorney’s office declined to press criminal charges against a St. Paul police officer shown last year kicking and pushing a man during an arrest captured on a controversial YouTube video.
Minneapolis supervising attorney Lisa Godon reviewed evidence in the case and found that Officer Jesse Zilge’s actions in arresting Eric R. Hightower were “shocking and disturbing” and qualified as assault, but that he used reasonable force as defined by Minnesota statute and department policy.
“…there is a difference between what may appear unreasonable to a citizen and what may appear reasonable as authorized (per police department policy and practice),” Godon wrote in a Feb. 27 memo.
But Godon noted that “it appears that other effective alternatives existed and that Officer Zilge did not use those alternatives.”
“Officer Zilge’s actions on August 28, 2012 — in particular, his decision to quickly resort to mace, to kick Mr. Hightower while he was on the ground, coughing/choking in reaction to the effects of the mace, to bring Hightower to his squad using force so extreme as to cause a sizable dent in the squad’s hood, and in violently holding/jerking Hightower by the hair throughout the efforts to get Hightower into his squad car — were both shocking and disturbing,” she wrote.
However, state law and department policy permit use of force when other conditions are at play, including the suspect’s past behavior and the severity of the alleged crime.
Zilge was arresting Hightower for allegedly threatening to kill his ex-girlfriend. Hightower had allegedly broken the woman’s bedroom window earlier, and pleaded guilty in an unrelated assault on a man.
Godon also declined to press charges against Officer Matthew Gorans, who arrived later during the arrest and admitted to Macing and pushing Hightower into a squad car. There was insufficient evidence that Gorans assaulted Hightower, and the officer’s actions were necessary in the arrest, she wrote in a Feb. 15 memo.
The Minneapolis city attorney’s office was asked to review the case for misdemeanor charges when the Olmsted County attorney’s office decided in November not to press felony charges. County Attorney Mark Ostrem wrote that Minnesota law allowed a certain degree of force, and that there was not enough evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the officers used unreasonable force.
Hightower had ignored several of Zilge’s commands to lie on his stomach, and appeared as if he was going to head butt the officer, at which point officers slammed him on the squad car, Ostrem wrote.
The internal affairs investigations into Zilge’s and Goran’s actions are ongoing.