Community reacts to controversial St. Paul arrest video

6:51 AM, Jul 11, 2013   |    comments
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ST. PAUL, Minn. - Police released a second video Tuesday involving a controversial arrest made last summer in St. Paul.

The squad car video shows Officer Matthew Gorans pulling Eric Hightower's hair while forcing him in a squad car and then it appears he pepper sprays Hightower's ear.

The arrest got the public's attention in August 2012 after someone posted a YouTube video of Officer Jesse Zilge kicking Hightower before trying to put him in the squad car.

"It looks terrible to the public. It looks terrible that this man is suffering," said Mylan Masson, director of the Law Enforcement Program at Hennepin Technical College.

But Masson, who is a former patrol officer for Minneapolis Park Police, is hesitant to judge the officers without knowing more details.

"You want to take control of the suspect without hurting yourself and without hurting them. Was there a need to pull his hair, I don't know," she said.

Police arrested Hightower last August for allegedly stalking and threatening his ex-girlfriend.

A St. Paul Police source confirms Chief Thomas Smith fired Gorans and suspended Officer Jesse Zilge, but the discipline isn't final until the union grievance process takes its course.

The police union defended the officer's actions and questioned the police department's release of the video.

"Our members were dealing with a known dangerous individual who refused to follow directives, at a time when the very dangerous conditions posed a threat to officer safety," the statement read.

"As a black male in the Twin Cities it means we're not safe," said Jeff Martin, the St. Paul NAACP President.

Martin, an attorney and former probation officer thinks both officers should be fired. He also believes criminal charges should have been filed.

The Olmstead County Attorney's office declined to file charges. Ramsey County passed on the officer's case to avoid any conflict of interest.

Martin worries what the videos could do to the St. Paul Police Department.

"There are a lot of great officers at St. Paul and they train very well, and they've got good leaders over there helping them. But when you don't handle the bad actors in an appropriate way, it puts a whole different view on the police department," said Martin.

Officer Gorans was involved in another case where investigators found him using excessive force in 2010, according to St. Paul Police.

"I really like Chief Smith. I think he's a great guy, seems to be doing the right thing, but he's got his hands full," added Martin.

"We have to trust what the chief is doing. He's not going to do this lightly. He doesn't want to lose an officer that he's trained," said Masson.

But based on the video, she says it is difficult to figure out who is at fault.

"I suspect there's always more (information) out there. We don't know the whole situation because you can never get inside the body of the person that is dealing with this, the officer and/or the suspect," she said.

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