A St. Paul man whose arrest last year was captured on a cellphone camera and posted on YouTube failed to show up for his court hearing Wednesday, where he would have been immediately arrested on two outstanding warrants.
Eric R. Hightower, 31, was scheduled to appear before Ramsey County District Judge Judith Tilsen in the case that led St. Paul police to arrest him last August. Hightower is charged with aggravated stalking, terroristic threats and property damage for allegedly threatening to kill his ex-girlfriend.
Tilsen issued a third arrest warrant for Hightower when he failed to show up by noon, three hours after his and other defendants’ hearings began. Hightower already had two warrants out for his arrest stemming from a probation violation and charges filed last week when he allegedly violated a domestic abuse no-contact order by contacting the ex-girlfriend in his stalking case.
Assistant Ramsey County Attorney Yasmin Mullings told Tilsen that there is concern Hightower may be attempting to tamper with the witness, his ex-girlfriend.
Mullings had been prepared to negotiate a possible plea agreement with Hightower and his attorney, Seamus Mahoney, on Wednesday.
Mahoney told Tilsen that he was in touch with Hightower throughout the morning, but could not reach him after 11 a.m. Hightower said he was coming in from Minneapolis, Mahoney said.
The arrest warrants caused “anxiety” in Hightower, said Mahoney, who could not address questions after the hearing due to a judge-issued gag order to not publicly speak on the case outside of court.
A five-minute YouTube video posted last year showed Hightower’s arrest. He is lying on his side on a sidewalk, propped up on an elbow. Officer Jesse Zilge kicked him once in the chest as bystanders watched.
Zilge rolled Hightower onto his stomach and handcuffed him. A second officer helped Zilge lift Hightower to his feet and walk him to a squad car. The officers appeared to slam Hightower’s head and upper body onto the vehicle’s hood.
The incident prompted public outcry and support for Hightower, whose subsequent behavior did not help his cause. Weeks after the video was posted and he was charged and then bailed out of jail, Hightower met up with the ex-girlfriend and jumped out of a second-story motel window when a concerned patron called police about a fight in the room.
He pleaded guilty last July to third-degree assault in an unrelated case in which he punched a man, knocking out two front teeth. He was sentenced to probation in that case.
Officer Matthew Gorans helped Zilge and another officer place Hightower into the squad car during the August arrest. Gorans pulled Hightower into the car and sprayed Mace into his face and right ear.
The Olmsted County attorney’s office and Minneapolis city attorney’s office independently reviewed Zilge’s and Gorans’ actions in the arrest and both declined to charge them. An internal affairs investigation of their actions is currently before Chief Thomas Smith for review, said Sgt. Paul Paulos, a police spokesman.
Tilsen revoked Hightower’s current bond and doubled it to $70,000.