A 29-year-old man who was knocked unconscious when a Chicago police officer body slammed him onto a street curb sued the city and the officer on Thursday, saying the officer should have known the maneuver was dangerous because he is trained in martial arts.
The officer detained Bernard Kersh at a South Side bus stop on Thanksgiving for drinking alcohol in public. During the arrest — which was videoed by a bystander and captured on a police body camera — the officer's actions left Kersh with serious head, neck and shoulder injuries, according to the 14-page filing in Cook County Circuit Court.
Prosecutors later filed aggravated battery and other charges against Kersh, accusing him of spitting into Officer Jerald Williams face. During a December hearing, prosecutors said “a substantial amount of spit” got in the officer’s eye and some into his mouth.
The officer is a mixed martial arts fighter, known in fighting circles by the nickname “Bacon and Eggs” Williams, the lawsuit says.
Kersh's Chicago-based lead attorney, Andrew M. Stroth, said Williams' martial-arts training made the body-slam maneuver potentially deadly.
"His body is a lethal weapon," Stroth said, referring to the officer's fight training.
The bystander video released by the Civilian Office of Police Accountability shows the officer suddenly lifting Kersh high off his feet, then slamming his body hard onto the pavement. The back of Kersh’s head appears to strike the curb and he is immediately motionless.
The officer also threw a forearm strike to Kersh's head after he passed out, the lawsuit says.
The body slam and officers' response to it, raise doubts about the Police Department's commitment to a court-monitored plan to overhaul how officers do their jobs, Stroth said. A plan approved by a federal judge last year highlights years of excessive force by officers, especially in minority communities.
Chicago's law department, which would represent the city and the officer in the litigation, did not immediately respond to a phone message seeking comment.
Kevin Graham, the Chicago police union’s president, defended the officer in a December statement, saying “his actions were well within department use-of-force guidelines.”
Mayor Lori Lightfoot has also said the investigation of the incident by COPA would be “comprehensive.” As is standard procedure, the officer was stripped of his police powers while COPA reviewed the case.
Recently released police body-cam video shows officers picking up Kersh's limp body and placing him in a squad car. One unidentified officer is heard saying emergency responders heading to the scene should slow down because "nobody's hurt." Another says an ambulance was called for the officer who was spit on, not for Kersh.
Kersh was hospitalized after the body slam but discharged hours later. The lawsuit says an examination determined the severity of his injuries.
Kersh's lawyers say their client has been diagnosed with schizophrenia and, in a condition he had before the body slam, is blind in one eye.
Kersh had been charged at least 25 times previously, mostly for theft, but once for punching an officer and once for spitting at an officer.
The two-count civil complaint asks for more than $100,000 in damages and other payments, but it doesn't specify an amount.