MINNEAPOLIS — A St. Paul police officer captured on video kicking a suspect who was lying on the ground during an arrest is on leave and the subject of an internal investigation Thursday.
The video of Tuesday's daylight arrest shows Officer Jesse Zilge kicking Eric Hightower once in the chest. Zilge then handcuffs Hightower, drags him onto his feet and, with the assistance of another officer, slams the suspect's head onto the hood of a squad car. A crowd of onlookers heckles the officers as more squad cars arrive, and Hightower is eventually driven away.
A brief report filed by Zilge lists hands, fists and feet among the weapons used by police in the arrest, but does not describe the events shown in the video that was recorded by a citizen and posted to YouTube on Wednesday.
Hightower, 30, had been accused of threatening to kill his ex-girlfriend. He was charged Thursday with stalking, making terroristic threats and criminal damage to property.
He told the St. Paul Pioneer Press he didn't know why he was being arrested, and the kick was delivered as he lay on the ground, coughing and choking on a chemical that Zilge had sprayed at him.
"It was like he was kicking a football or something," Hightower told the newspaper. "He kicked me so hard, he knocked the wind completely out of me."
Police spokesman Howie Padilla said police learned of the video after someone sent a link to the department. Chief Thomas Smith ordered an internal investigation of conduct before, during and after the arrest.
"The video of a St. Paul police officer striking a suspect raises serious questions about the conduct of the officer," Mayor Chris Coleman said in a statement. "I have high expectations for the department and its employees. We will fully investigate and take appropriate action."
While several officers appear in the video, Zilge was the only one placed on paid administrative leave. A phone listing for a Jesse Zilge was disconnected.
St. Paul Police Federation President Dave Titus didn't respond to messages from The Associated Press. He told the Pioneer Press that Zilge is a good officer.
"This cop was dealing with a very dangerous individual in a very dangerous situation," Titus said. "Back-up was not immediately available. And maybe our officials shouldn't make comments about their concern until the investigation has run its course."
Zilge's personnel file was not immediately available.
According to the complaint filed Thursday, Hightower's ex-girlfriend called authorities on Tuesday and said Hightower had been harassing and threatening her for two days. The woman told police she feared Hightower, and that he had assaulted and choked her before.
The Ramsey County Jail would not accept a message for Hightower and it was not immediately clear whether he had an attorney. According to the complaint, he admitted to police that he called his ex-girlfriend and threatened she'd get her "head blown off." But Hightower said he only meant to scare her, according to the complaint.
Hightower has a criminal record that includes 2007 convictions for petty theft and violating a protection order. In June of this year he pleaded guilty to a gross misdemeanor of obstruction of justice and interfering with a peace officer. He is also awaiting sentencing on a count of third-degree assault for an August 2011 incident in which he punched a man in the face, knocking out his two front teeth.
Talking from jail, Hightower told the Pioneer Press he and his friends were on their way to a park when an officer jumped out of a squad car and ordered everyone onto the ground. The officer singled out Hightower and began spraying him with a chemical.
Hightower said he never resists arrest, but said: "Why would I get down on the ground when you still haven't told me what was I under arrest for? I don't feel like I was obligated to get down on the ground just because you said so."
While on the ground, Hightower said he continued to ask the officer what he did wrong, but the officer wouldn't say. Hightower said the officer pointed his Taser at him, but didn't use it. He said the officer became agitated.
"He sprayed me in my face again. I was laying on my side, I was hocking up the stuff, it was choking me and he ran towards me, kicked me in the chest, kicked me in the chin," Hightower said.
Hightower said the spray caused his eyes to swell and his face was numb. He said he couldn't hear anything out of his right ear.
He told the newspaper that he used a water fountain to flush out his eyes at the jail, and he also saw nurses and received ice packs for swelling on his chest.
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