Chicago, IL – A Chicago police officer used a takedown to arrest a suspect who spit in his eye and licked his face, and he has now been relieved of police powers pending an investigation into his use of force (video below).
Attorney Andrew Stroth alleged that the officer could have killed his schizophrenic client by using the brutal “martial arts” takedown maneuver, The Washington Post reported.
“You have an unarmed person who, from our perspective, presents no threat to the officer, and what [the suspect] said is that all of a sudden that officer did that takedown move and bashed his head against the cement,” Stroth told The Washington Post. “The video speaks for itself. He could have easily been killed.”
The incident occurred in the 800-block of East 79th Street just before 4 p.m. on Nov. 28, WFLD reported.
Bernard Kersh, 29, was allegedly consuming vodka at a bus stop when Chicago police approached him with the intent of issuing him a citation for drinking alcohol in public, Cook County prosecutor James Murphy told The Washington Post.
According to police, Kersh “became combative as soon as the officers started talking to him,” Murphy said.
The suspect allegedly threatened them, then licked an officer’s face twice and spit in the officer’s eye.
“There was a substantial amount of spit, in liquid form, that landed in the eye of [the officer],” Murphy explained, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Some of the suspect’s spit also dripped into the officer’s mouth, he added.
The attack and subsequent takedown were captured by a store security camera, according to the prosecutor.
Jovanna Alexiss Jamison began recording the scene just as an officer was taking the suspect to the ground, WFLD reported.
The video showed the officer as he grabbed onto Kersh from behind and slammed him onto the cement.
Kersh was motionless after the maneuver, and was subsequently transported to a local hospital for an evaluation.
“[He] didn’t do anything aggressive – he just stood there,” Jamison said of Kersh, according to WFLD. “He was standing there using his cell phone. They took away his bottle of liquor and threw it.”
The 32-year-old officer who Kersh allegedly licked and spat on was also transported to the hospital for an evaluation.
When Kersh arrived at the University of Chicago hospital, he was so disruptive that he had to be sedated in order to be treated, Murphy told the Chicago Tribune.
After he was evaluated and released, Kersh was arrested for aggravated battery to a police officer, drinking alcohol in public, simple assault, and resisting police, WGCL reported.
According to prosecutors, Kersh suffered “a small scratch the size of a fingernail” on his eyebrow during the emergency takedown, according to the Chicago Tribune.
But his attorney alleged that his client could may have actually suffered a traumatic brain injury.
Judge Arthur Willis said it was clear that Kersh was “going through a mental health issue” at the time of the confrontation, but also noted that “spitting in someone’s face such that it dribbles into their eye and mouth” is a “form of violence,” the Chicago Tribune reported.
He ordered that Kersh be held on $5,000 bail. Kersh was later sprung from jail by Reverend Jesse Jackson, WGCL reported.
"Unnecessary force could have cracked his skull," Jackson said of Kersh’s arrest. "It raises alarm. No one deserves this kind of treatment."
Jackson also attended Kersh’s initial court hearing on Sunday, the Washington Post reported.
“Police had no basis for throwing him down in a way that could have killed him. We’ve seen this before, and it must stop,” Jackson said. “I hope that the mayor and those involved will move immediately to deal with this police officer and those who stayed silent and did nothing.”
Civil rights activists were quick to accuse Chicago police of staging a coverup of what they deemed to be a racially-motivated attack.
“This was, for all practical purposes, attempted murder,” Tree of Life Justice League activist Eric Russell told the Chicago Tribune. “We are of the opinion that these bogus criminal cover charges are just that — bogus criminal cover charges to cover up a police crime.”
Russell further alleged that the incident was an example of the “continual pattern of brutality being inflicted upon the black community.”
Kersh’s mother, Keshia Johnson, said that she was on the phone with Kersh when the altercation occurred, The Washington Post reported.
She said that Kersh had left to go buy alcohol for the family’s Thanksgiving dinner, but that he disappeared and she was worried he might be dead.
“We were waiting to eat Thanksgiving dinner for him, because he always blesses the table,” Johnson said, according to The Washington Post.
She later watched the cell phone video that showed her son being taken to the ground.
“To see them just slam him to the concrete like that, it was hard to watch,” Johnson said. “I can’t say [if he spit] or not, but if he did, I still don’t think he deserves to be slammed on his head. He could have killed my son. He could have broke his neck. He could have not woken up.”
“I mean, how about handcuff a person?” she suggested, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot called the incident “very disturbing,” in a tweet on Friday.
According to prosecutors, Kersh was convicted of punching an officer in 2011, the Chicago Tribune reported.
He was also convicted of spitting on an officer in 2018.
Court records showed that Kersh has failed to appear for court on at least 15 occasions in the past, WLS reported.
The officer who took Kersh to the ground was relieved of his police powers pending the outcome of a Civilian Office of Police Accountability investigation, the Chicago Tribune reported.
Fraternal Order of Police Vice President Martin Preib slammed the department for suspending the officer, and said the maneuver he used to stop Kersh’s attack was “perfectly within the guidelines of use of force,” the Chicago Tribune reported.
“It’s right there in the law,” he said, according to The Washington Post. “You can’t spit on police. You can’t lick ‘em, either.”
“It’s sending another message to all the police officers that they will not back you up, that they will not support you, that they will not allow you to go out and protect the public," Preib said of the officer’s suspension, according to the Chicago Tribune.
He noted that Kersh’s alleged mental health struggles do not excuse him with regards to the attack on the officer.
“If he needs mental health services, he can get that in custody," Preib told the Chicago Tribune. “What’s he going to go out and do now when he’s out on the street? Every year is he going to spit on a cop, and is it going to escalate and get worse and worse?”
Chicago Police Department (CPD) spokesperson Anthony Guglielmi said that the department supports the charges that were filed against Kersh as a result of the altercation, but said that they are also looking into the officer’s actions.
“While the department stands by the criminal charges against the defendant, Internal Affairs and the independent Office of Police Accountability are scrutinizing the actions prior to that emergency take down very closely,” Guglielmi told The Washington Post. “If any wrongdoing or policy violations are discovered, officers will be held accountable.”
You can watch cell phone footage of the officer’s encounter with Kersh in the video below: