Black College Swimmer Sues Illinois Police Over False Arrest

Jaylan Butler

Illinois police officers wrongfully arrested, detained and threatened to shoot a black college athlete while pointing a gun to his forehead at a rest stop as he traveled with the school's swim team, a civil rights group contends in a lawsuit.

Jaylan Butler, who was then a 19-year-old member of the Eastern Illinois University swim team, is suing six officers for false arrest, excessive detention and use of force, according to a federal lawsuit the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois filed last month in a district court. The case is still pending.

“My dad taught me at a young age what to do when you are stopped by police officers – stop instantly, put your hands up, drop anything you are holding, and drop to your knees,” Butler, 20, told The Dispatch-Rock Island Argus. “I hoped I would never have to use this advice in my life, but all that changed in seconds.”

On February 24, 2019, Butler and his teammates were traveling on a bus from a South Dakota swim meet when they stopped at an East Moline rest stop, just over the Illinois border past the Interstate 80 bridge. Butler stepped out to stretch his legs. Heading back onto the bus, his coach suggested he take a photo of a roadside sign for the team's social media account.

While taking the photo, several law enforcement vehicles stopped and officers drew their guns. Two officers had Butler on the ground. Butler said one cop pointed a rifle at him and another had a gun to his head.

"He said, 'If you move, I'll blow your (expletive) head off,'" Butler said.

The team's bus driver, Todd Slingerland, and Butler's coach were alarmed and exited the bus to tell the officers the teen was part of the school's swim team.

Several minutes after the officers searched his pockets and placed him, still cuffed, in the back of a police vehicle, ACLU lawyers said authorities forced him to provide photo identification before releasing him. The officers involved were part of the Hampton Police Department, the East Moline Police Department, and the Rock Island County Sheriff’s Office, ACLU attorneys noted.

Rock Island County State's Attorney Dora Villarreal, whose office will defend the two unnamed county deputies named in the suit, said it is her understanding the two were not with the sheriff's department. The officers were called in to assist on a Henry County incident, Villarreal added.

Henry County Sheriff Kerry Loncka said Illinois State Police asked for help in chasing a man in a vehicle who shot at a truck on Interstate 80. When the newspaper contacted the state police to seek information, state police declined to comment.

The ACLU says Butler started seeing a therapist to address trauma and depression he's endured following the incident.

“I was scared and depressed. I remember sitting in class the next day, looking at the bruises on my wrists and replaying the events of that night,” said Jaylan. “Now whenever I see a police officer, I don’t feel safe—I feel scared and anxious.”

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