St. Paul police brutality: No felony charges for cops who beat up, maced Eric Hightower

Officer Zilge (standing, right) won't face a felony for laying the boots to Hightower.
Officer Zilge (standing, right) won't face a felony for laying the boots to Hightower.

Yesterday, prosecutors announced St. Paul officers Jesse Zilge and Matthew Gorans won't face felony charges for roughing up a seemingly helpless suspect in an August incident captured on a camera phone.

-- Eric Hightower, St. Paul cop-kick victim, jumps out second-floor window to get away from police
-- Eric Hightower, St. Paul police brutality victim, allegedly threatened to blow ex's head off

In the footage, Zilge is seen kicking Eric Hightower, 30, under his chin and dousing him with mace while he's on the ground. Later on, Zilge and Gorans roughly slam Hightower's head against a squad car while trying to load him into the backseat.

But none of that went above and beyond "reasonable force," the Olmsted County attorney's office concluded (Olmsted County conducted the investigation to avoid the possible conflict of interest involved in having Ramsey County prosecutors investigating St. Paul cops).

"Minnesota law authorizes law enforcement officers to use reasonable force when attempting to arrest a person," a statement from County Attorney Mark Ostrem says. "In this, Officer Zilge had probable cause to arrest Hightower for making threats to kill his ex-girlfriend."

But that conclusion isn't satisfactory to Jeff Martin, president of the St. Paul NAACP. From the Star Tribune:

[Martin] said he hopes that the officers' actions will be further scrutinized.

The officers' use of force should have scaled down after Hightower was sprayed with a chemical irritant, said Martin, who is also an attorney.

"It doesn't give you that I-can-do-whatever-I-want-to-do pass," Martin said of an officer's discretion. "What's kicking him going to do?"

As you'd expect, St. Paul Police Federation President Dave Titus looks at the situation a bit differently. From the Pioneer Press:

Titus said the decision shows that the officers "acted in good faith and according to their training."

"Good cops were in a dangerous situation with a known dangerous individual and dozens of potentially hostile onlookers," Titus said in a statement. "The video taken by the suspect's associate does not tell the whole story of the officers' perceptions of the entire situation -- which includes their knowledge of the violent tendencies of the suspect and their interactions with the large threatening crowd, the strong possibility of a gun based on his prior threats to his ex-girlfriend, and the refusal of the suspect to obey their commands."

The Olmsted County press release says "Medical personnel suspect that Hightower had a punctured ear drum [following the beatdown], but the medical reports are inconsistent in that diagnosis." No further injuries were reported.

One or both of the officers could still face misdemeanor charges if a city attorney decides to take up the case. Zilge and Gorans were placed on paid administrative leave immediately following the incident but returned to work on non-patrol assignments in mid-September.

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