It was just over a year ago when the swim team from East Illinois University (EIU) was returning to the Charleston campus after a championship tournament in South Dakota. The bus the team was riding on pulled off Interstate 80 near an East Moline rest stop.
When one swimmer got off the bus to take a selfie and stretch his legs, the 19-year-old freshman found himself surrounded by law enforcement officers, guns drawn. That's just the beginning of what happened, according to a federal lawsuit that has been filed by the young man, who was the only black team member on the bus.
According to the plaintiff, when confronted by officers from multiple law enforcement agencies who arrived on the scene with lights flashing, he put his hands up, dropped his phone and got on his knees. He says that two officers pressed down on his back and neck, while another one put a gun to his forehead. That officer allegedly threatened to blow his head off.
According to the lawsuit, even after the coach and the bus driver told the officers that the student was on the swim team, they still patted him down, handcuffed him and put him in the back of one of their cars before letting him go.
The young man is suing officers from the East Moline and Hampton Police Departments as well as the Rock Island County Sheriff's Office. He is claiming excessive use of force, excessive detention and false arrest.
The officers were reportedly looking for a man who had shot at a vehicle not far from where the bus had stopped. That man was captured after the incident with the EIU student when he crashed his car.
The East Moline Police Chief has disputed the student's claims. The Rock Island County Sheriff called the allegations "without merit." Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzer, however, said he was "deeply troubled" by the allegations and asked for a "thorough and transparent investigation."
If you or a loved one has been the victim of police misconduct, it's essential to report it and to seek justice. This can help incentivize law enforcement agencies to better train and "police" their own employees and lessen the chances that more people will become victims of misconduct, abuse and violence at the hands of law enforcement officers.