The man who wasby a Chicago cop said he was not resisting arrest in his first one-on-one interview since the incident. Bernard Kersh, 29, accused officer Jerald Williams of excessive force when Williams lifted him into the air and slammed his head to the cement curb on Thanksgiving.
“He picked me off my feet and slammed me headfirst into the concrete,” Kersh told CBS Chicago. “I could have been killed.”
The viral video was originally captured on a cellphone and posted to social media. But CBS Chicago has obtained new footage from two different security cameras. It shows different angles and about five minutes leading up to the body slam.
Police said officers stopped Kersh to give him a ticket when they saw him drinking alcohol in plain view at a bus stop. They said he resisted arrest, and spat at and licked Williams’ face. Kersh denies it.
“I didn’t spit at no officer,” he said. “I don’t lick no officer’s face.”
The security video first shows a white police SUV pull up to a bus stop. Williams gets out of the vehicle, goes into the bus shelter and grabs Kersh, who is drinking liquor. Several seconds before the body slam, Williams seems to be pressing his body up against Kersh, who then turns his face toward the officer. Williams then wraps his arms around him and body slams him.
Kersh said when he hit the curb, he was knocked unconscious. “Everything went black,” he said.
“So you can see, I’m not being resistant or anything,” Kersh said while watching the video. “I’m in compliance.”
Geoffrey Alpert, a criminology professor at the University of South Carolina, reviewed the videos and said the “subject is apparently being cooperative.” Alpert noted that the cop’s partner is walking away to go around the car.
“So he’s not seeing any threat, not seeing any resistance,” Alpert said. “It’s just kind of a routine situation that turns very ugly, very quickly.”
Williams is a trained MMA fighter. YouTube videos show him using similar maneuvers in the ring, where he’s known as Jerald “Bacon and Eggs” Williams. On the Chicago streets, he’s assigned to the area south gang enforcement unit.
“That might be a good move in the ring — it’s certainly not a good move on the street,” Alpert said. “It’s not necessary to throw him to the ground. It’s clearly an excessive takedown, and it’s not justified.”
Kersh and his family said he suffers from mental health issues, including schizophrenia.
Records show Kersh has been arrested more than a dozen times before his latest run-in went viral. But his mother, Keshia Johnson, said it should have factored into how her son was treated by the officer.
“My son does have a record, he’s done things. I can’t change what he’s done,” she said. “But he’s still a person, and what he did up until Thanksgiving has nothing to do with what this officer did to him on Thanksgiving Day. It’s not a reason, a justification, to slam his neck, his head.”
Even if Kersh did lick or spit on Williams, Albert said, the officer’s reaction is not justifiable.
“This is more of a vicious lift and slam,” Alpert said. “Now, that may be OK under some circumstances, particularly on grass or some soft surface. This was on the street with a curb, and it’s not controlled. And it’s really hard to justify that vicious takedown for anything.”
Authorities charged Kersh with one felony count of aggravated battery, one misdemeanor account of resisting police and one misdemeanor count of simple assault. He was also cited for drinking alcohol in public. He has since been released on house arrest.
After the incident, he was taken to the University of Chicago Medical Center. His attorney Andrew Stroth is trying to get him more thorough testing, including an independent CAT scan.
“I would have rather been tased than be slammed like that,” Kersh said. “Like I could feel my heartbeat in my brain.”
The Civilian Office of Police Accountability investigating the incident. At the office’s request, the police department agreed to strip Williams of his police powers and the second officer was relieved of police duties.
Kersh said it’s still difficult for him to watch the video. “It’s hard to look at it but I am happy to be alive,” he said, “because I could easily not be here talking about it right now.”