A Chicago city officer has been relieved of his police powers pending an investigation into “disturbing” video of him body-slamming a man who allegedly spat on him during an arrest late last month.
The man, 29-year-old Bernard Kersh, was hospitalized and later charged with felony aggravated battery on a police officer in the Nov. 28 incident, the Chicago Tribune reported. He’s also facing misdemeanor charges of resisting police and simple assault.
The officers involved have not been named.
A 40-second clip of the incident posted online shows Kersh quietly standing and facing a police SUV when the officer standing behind him suddenly lifts him off his feet and slams him onto the pavement, causing him to hit his head on the curb.
The man lies motionless in the street for several seconds before another officer comes over to check on him.
“Oh my god! Look what the f–k they just did to this boy!” said Jovanna Alexiss Jamison, 22, who filmed the arrest. “For no reason.”
The officer was prompted to use an “emergency takedown maneuver” after Kersh became “irate” and licked the officer’s face before spitting in his eyes, authorities said. Police said the man also made threats toward the officer.
“There was a substantial amount of spit, in liquid form, that landed in the eye of (the officer),” Cook County Assistant State’s Attorney James Murphy said of the incident, adding that some of the spit dripped into the officer’s mouth.
Court records show Kersh, whose lawyers say struggles with mental illness, was previously convicted in 2018 for spitting on an officer and in 2011 for assaulting an officer. Still, local activist Eric Russell decried the officer’s use of force, arguing “This was, for all practical purposes, attempted murder.”
“We are of the opinion that these bogus criminal cover charges are just that — bogus criminal cover charges to cover up a police crime,’ said Russell, a member of the Tree of Life Justice League.
Thursday’s incident unfolded after plainclothes officers spotted the Chicago man drinking vodka at a bus stop in Chatham on the city’s South Side. Prosecutors said one of the officers took Kersh’s alcohol during the patrol stop and was about to write him a ticket when the man spat in the officer’s face.
That’s when the body-slam occurred.
Footage of the incident quickly circulated online, sparking outrage, and the officer was relieved of his powers shortly afterward. The Civilian Office of Police Accountability (COPA) is now reviewing whether the officer’s use of force was justified.
“This incident is under investigation, as the actions in the video are concerning,” CPD spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said in a statement Thursday. “The specifics of what transpired prior to officers executing an emergency takedown will be scrutinized closely.”
“If wrongdoing is discovered, officers will be held accountable,” he added.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot also reacted to the video Friday, calling the incident “very disturbing.”
Kersh’s mother Keshia Johnson, was just as shocked, saying the video didn’t show her son as being enough of a threat for “[the officer] to slam him on his head — I mean, how about handcuff a person?”
According to FOX 32, Kersh was taken to University of Chicago Medical Center by authorities, where he was treated and stabilized. The cop who was spat on was also taken to the hospital for evaluation.
At a recent hearing, a judge noted Kersh’s mental state but argued that “spitting in someone’s face such that it dribbles into their eye and mouth” isn’t considered a form of violence.
Kersh was ultimately granted $5,000 bail and put on a 24-hour curfew, the Tribune reported. He was later bonded out by the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr.
The incident remains under investigation.
Watch more in the video below.
Warning, this video is graphic! A man was seriously hurt after being slammed to the ground by @Chicago_Police on Thanksgiving Day in Chatham when he allegedly spit on an officer while being detained for drinking alcohol in public. @chicagosmayor Video captured by: Jovanna Jamison pic.twitter.com/jGN1jYq9BF
— Tia A. Ewing (@TIA_EWING) November 29, 2019