VIEWPOINT: Sheriff Bustos shows Butler video but refuses to answer questions
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VIEWPOINT: Sheriff Bustos shows Butler video but refuses to answer questions

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The Rock Island County Sheriff is using a dash-cam video to show two of his deputies' role in a mistaken arrest that has led to a lawsuit by the ACLU, but the deputies are off-camera during the critical portions of the incident.

Sheriff Gerry Bustos and State's Attorney Dora Villarreal called a news conference Wednesday, saying they chose "to make additional statements" about the case against the two deputies because of "extensive media coverage and commentary."

Before and after showing a dash-cam video on a wall screen in a county courtroom, Bustos reiterated his deputies were only on scene at the rest area off Interstate 80 in Rock Island County for two minutes and six seconds.

However, the video does not depict the deputies' conduct, and the sheriff refused to answer any questions or to clarify what was contained in the video.

Deputies Jack Asquini and Jason Pena are among six officers accused of excessive force, assault, battery, false arrest and other counts named in a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU out of Chicago is representing Jaylan Butler, a swimmer from Eastern Illinois University who happened to cross paths with Quad-City law enforcement after stepping off a university-hired bus at the rest area southwest of the I-80 bridge around 8 p.m. on Feb. 24, 2019.

Butler and the bus driver said the two deputies, along with an officer from the East Moline and Hampton police departments, mistook Butler for a man being pursued in a possible interstate shooting. Two other officers have not been identified and are named in the lawsuit as John Does.

The video supplied by the county shows a heavy law-enforcement presence along Illinois Route 84 and the interstate. All were in pursuit of a black man suspected of firing a gun at a truck on I-80 in Henry County before fleeing. The man then crashed on the last Illinois exit on I-80 and fled on foot.

Responding officers spotted Butler, a 19-year-old African American, and took him into custody. As a member of a college swim team, returning from an out-of-state swim meet, he was wearing a coat with his school's logo and was heading back to a coach bus bearing the school's logo on both sides, after taking a cell-phone photo.

Butler said he feared for his life when, lying with his face pressed into the snow and a knee in his back, one of the officers put a gun to his head and said, "If you move, I'll blow your (expletive) head off."

Bustos on Wednesday acknowledged, "Mr. Jaylan Butler did not deserve to fear for his life that night. For that we are sorry." 

But the sheriff walked out of the courtroom after showing the video, refusing to say what his deputies encountered while off-camera, where Butler was being mistakenly detained.

Deputy Pena was carrying a rifle as he exited the county squad, and Deputy Asquini wrote in an incident report — which Bustos released on a DVD after the press conference — that he was the officer who put his knee in Butler's lower back. However, during the press conference, Bustos described their involvement as "only brief interaction."

Portions of Asquini's report also contradict another piece of evidence Bustos supplied at Wednesday's news briefing.

County officials played a 911 call from a witness who was on Interstate 80 and saw the obvious law-enforcement commotion on the east side of the interstate (in the area of the ramp, where the crash occurred). In the recording, the caller is heard describing what she and/or another person in the car saw — the silhouette of a person running across the interstate in the opposite direction of police.

The witness was asked for specifics, including what the person was wearing. But the caller couldn't say and added at the end of the call that they, "couldn't even say it was a man."

However, in Asquini's report of his role in the incident, he wrote, "Upon arrival, I observed the officers had the individual in handcuffs and he was laying (sic) on the ground.

"The male was wearing a black jacket, matching the description given by dispatch. The officers requested my assistance to stay and secure the subject while they responded to the bus to speak with the driver and other occupants.

"I placed my right knee on the subject's lower back."

If a witness told a dispatcher the fleeing subject was a man wearing a black jacket, it wasn't the caller from the 911 tape. And, again, the sheriff refused to answer any follow-up questions.

In a statement by Villarreal, the state's attorney, she wrote, "The events described by Mr. Butler are both shocking and disturbing."

Though one county deputy placed his knee in Butler's back and the other held a rifle, Villarreal's statement continued, "During this interaction, we have yet to find any evidence of wrongdoing," appearing to suggest the "shocking and disturbing" portion of events were unrelated to the deputies' role.

Illinois State Police have said they were looking for Frank Maquan Scott, 25, of Cedar Rapids, based on vehicle information from the shooting. He was taken into custody several hours after Butler was arrested, but he has not been charged with any weapons violations. While Scott was 6-foot-6 and weighed 230 pounds, Butler was 5-foot-10 and weighed 160 pounds.

As the two county deputies returned to their vehicle after assisting in Butler's detention, one asked the other whether Butler had been the correct suspect, and the deputy replied, "No."

Even so, Butler still was in handcuffs when he was placed in another of the officer's squad cars after the sheriff's deputies left the scene. He later was permitted to retrieve his ID from the bus to provide to police before being released.

Contact Barb Ickes at 563-383-2316 or bickes@qctimes.com

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