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Leaders Call For Justice In Wake Of YouTube Arrest Video

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(credit: CBS) Holly Wagner
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ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) – A man who was beaten by St. Paul Police joined his lawyer and leaders from the NAACP and African American Leadership Council at Lewis Park in St. Paul on Saturday, the same place where police arrested Hightower four days ago.

Eric Hightower, 30, was arrested after allegedly stalking and threatening his ex-girlfriend. She told officers he threatened to kill her and had, in the last few weeks, choked her and beaten her.

On Wednesday, video surfaced of Hightower’s arrest at the corner of Woodbridge and Milford streets in St. Paul. The video shows one of the arresting officers appear to kick Hightower in the throat while he’s lying down on the sidewalk. [NOTE: Linked video contains explicit language and violence.]

Later in the video, another officer arrives and the two are seen pulling the man’s hair and shoving the man face down onto the hood of the police cruiser.

At Saturday’s meeting at Lewis Park, Eric Hightower remained quiet and reserved as his attorney, Seamus Mahoney, went through a list of injuries he suffered at the hands of a St. Paul Police officer.

“Mr. Hightower is lucky he didn’t get his teeth kicked in, his heart bruised or his throat crushed,” said Mahoney. “To be beaten like a dog and to have to lie there and take it, it’s pretty traumatizing.”

The incident report from police listed Jesse Zilge as the primary reporting officer and Steven Petron as the secondary reporting officer. Officer Zilge was earlier this week placed on administrative leave while the department investigates the incident.

A spokesperson for the department said Petron is currently still on duty. Petron has been put on paid administrative leave as the department continues to investigate potential police brutality.

“Saint Paul Police Chief Tom Smith found that the video images raised questions about use of force and immediately ordered a thorough internal investigation into the circumstances surrounding all aspects of the arrest, from start to finish,” read a Friday release from the department announcing the second officer had been put on paid administrative leave.

Zilge has one disciplinary action in his personnel file since joining the force in 2009. He was given an oral reprimand for improper procedure. Zilge’s file also included seven commendations, including two letters of recognition from Chief Thomas Smith.

Dave Titus, president of the St. Paul Police Federation, said that Zilge is a good man with family and co-workers who think highly of him. He also said the YouTube video is “one dimensional” and that the public should wait to form an opinion until the facts come out.

Police aren’t offering comment during their internal investigation.

The meeting at Lewis Park was an effort organized by the NAACP and other leaders in the community. Jeffry Martin of the NAACP said Officer Zilge’s behavior was unprofessional and wrong and they want justice.

“If that video wasn’t taken would we even know Eric Hightower’s name would we even believe Eric Hightower’s story,” Martin said.

Leaders say he’s not the only one that’s been treated like that by police, and they’re fearful of the damage this could cause to the community.

Hightower’s ex-girlfriend has spoken about the repeated abuse she and her children have suffered at his hands. Officer Zilge arrested him for threatening to kill her.

Leaders say regardless of Hightower’s behavior and past, he is entitled to his day in court.

“We have equal protection under the law under the 14th amendment of the constitution – good and bad, right or wrong we’re afforded those protections,” Martin said.

The NAACP and Hightower’s attorney told us they know of other local cases where people have been mistreated by police, but they didn’t provide exact numbers or cases.

The NAACP is starting a hotline where people can call in if they are unsatisfied with how a police complaint or incident was handled. The phone number is (612)615-9344.

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