Jaylan Butler, an innocent college student and the only Black member of the Eastern Illinois University swim team, was wrongfully arrested alongside an Illinois highway, held face down on the snowy ground with a gun to his forehead, and threatened by a group of police officers without justification. These facts are contained in a new lawsuit filed by Mr. Butler in federal court. 

Even when police officers realized they were mistaken in arresting Jaylan, they continued to detain him before forcing him to produce an identification card. Throughout the process, officers refused to identify themselves or give him any information about his arrest that would assist him in filing a formal complaint. 

“My dad taught me at a young age what to do when you are stopped by police officers – stop instantly, put your hands up, drop anything you are holding, and drop to your knees,” said Jaylan. “I hoped I would never have to use this advice in my life, but all that changed in seconds.”

On February 24, 2019, Jaylan was travelling with his swim team by bus from a college championship tournament in South Dakota. Shortly after 8:00 p.m., the bus pulled over on a frontage road off Interstate 80 near East Moline, Illinois. Jaylan and several teammates left the bus to stretch their legs. One of Jaylan’s coaches asked if he would take a photo of a roadside sign for the team’s social media account. Jaylan took the photo and began walking back to the bus.

Suddenly, several law enforcement vehicles raced up, and officers exited the cars with their guns drawn. They began yelling and swearing at Jaylan. Surprised and confused, Jaylan instantly followed his father’s advice and stopped, put his hands up, dropped his cell phone, and dropped to his knees. 

Police officers swarmed around Jaylan with their firearms pointed at him, and pushed him facedown onto the snowy ground. Jaylan had no idea why the officers had appeared. While one officer handcuffed him, other officers pinned him to the ground by pushing a knee into Jaylan’s back and pressing down on Jaylan’s neck. Another officer then held his gun to Jaylan’s forehead and threatened to “blow his [expletive] head off” if he moved. The team bus driver and Jaylan’s coach were alarmed and exited the bus to tell the officers Jaylan was part of the EIU swim team. 

The officers quickly realized that Jaylan was not the suspect they were looking for and had done nothing wrong, but instead of releasing him and apologizing, the officers searched his pockets and placed him – still cuffed – in the back of a police vehicle. After several more minutes, the officers released him, but only after forcing Jaylan to provide photo identification.  

“What happened to Jaylan is an example of the harmful police interactions that people of color experience far too often, but which receive much less attention. These officers forcibly arrested and searched Jaylan without reasonable suspicion, probable cause, or any other lawful justification. They never told Jaylan why he was being arrested, even after they realized their mistake. Instead, it’s clear they based their decision to arrest and harm Jaylan on the fact that he was a young Black man,” said Rachel Murphy, Staff Attorney, ACLU of Illinois.

When Jaylan finally returned to the bus, he put on a brave face to make his teammates more comfortable. However, since the incident, Jaylan has struggled with the effects of this incident and begun seeing a therapist to address his trauma and depression. 

“I was scared and depressed. I remember sitting in class the next day, looking at the bruises on my wrists and replaying the events of that night,” said Jaylan. “Now whenever I see a police officer, I don’t feel safe—I feel scared and anxious.”

Jaylan Butler is suing officers from the Hampton Police Department, the East Moline Police Department, and the Rock Island County Sheriff’s Office for false arrest, excessive detention, and excessive use of force. Jaylan is represented by attorneys at the ACLU of Illinois and Sidley Austin LLP. The case is pending in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of Illinois.