Prosecutors: Chicago police employed ‘emergency takedown’ after man spit in officer’s eye
A video of the incident that circulated on social media shows Bernard Kersh spitting on, licking officer's face
CHICAGO — The body-slamming of a 29-year-old man by a Chicago police officer on Thursday was an “emergency takedown maneuver” prompted by the man licking the officer’s face and spitting in his eye, prosecutors said Sunday.
Bernard Kersh, of the South Chicago neighborhood, was previously convicted in 2018 for spitting on a police officer and in 2011 for punching an officer. He was charged Sunday with aggravated battery to a police officer.
The incident has raised tensions between police and the African American community as video showing the officer hurling Kersh to the ground was circulated widely online. Activists at the hearing said the incident was part of a continued pattern of police brutality against African Americans, while a police union representative complained that concern for the safety of police officers was being overlooked.
The officer was relieved of his police powers shortly after the incident, which is being investigated by the Civilian Office of Police Accountability. Mayor Lori Lightfoot called the video of the incident “very disturbing.”
The encounter began as a routine patrol stop when two officers in plainclothes and driving an unmarked squad car observed Kersh drinking vodka at a bus stop in the Chatham neighborhood, prosecutors said. The body-slam occurred after the police officer had taken Kersh’s bottle of vodka away while preparing to write Kersh a ticket for drinking on the public way, and Kersh spit in the officer’s face.
“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, adding that the spit dripped into the officer’s mouth. Murphy said that surveillance video recovered from a store on Cottage Grove Avenue shows the entire incident, including Kersh licking the police officer’s face and spitting at him, as well as the “emergency takedown.”
Kersh refused medical treatment from the ambulance that arrived on the scene. He was transported to University of Chicago hospital, where he had to be sedated in order to be treated, Murphy said.
Lawyers for Kersh told Judge Arthur Willis that he was suffering from mental illness, for which he had sought treatment in October. They also said that Kersh denies spitting on the officer.
While prosecutors say the only evidence of injury to Kersh was a “small scratch the size of a fingernail,” Kersh’s lawyers said it was possible he’d suffered a brain injury from the blow.
Willis, the judge, said that despite it being clear that Kersh was “going through a mental health issue,” “this court does consider spitting in someone’s face such that it dribbles into their eye and mouth a form of violence.” Willis granted Kersh bail of $5,000 and put him on a 24-hour curfew.
Civil rights activist the Rev. Jesse Jackson attended Kersh’s arraignment and complained after the hearing that the police officer had employed “martial arts” on Kersch. Eric Russell, an activist with Tree of Life Justice League, said the incident was part of “this continual pattern of brutality being inflicted upon the black community.”
“This was, for all practical purposes, attempted murder,” Russell said. “We are of the opinion that these bogus criminal cover charges are just that — bogus criminal cover charges to cover up a police crime.”
Kersh’s mother, Keshia Johnson, said she watched the video of the incident and didn’t see her son being a threat to the officer.
“I wasn’t there, but the footage that I’ve seen, I didn’t see him as being a threat for him to slam him on his head,” Johnson said. “I mean, how about handcuff a person?”
Fraternal Order of Police Vice President Martin Preib said that the body-slam was “perfectly within the guidelines of use of force” and that the city should reinstate the officer immediately.
“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.
Preib noted that Kersh had already been convicted once before for spitting on an officer, and he questioned the leniency of the bond that was set.
“If he needs mental health services, he can get that in custody," Preib said. “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?”
- Use of Force