Metro-East News

Lawsuit alleges Fairview Heights cops used excessive force in arrest of women at mall

Two women have filed a lawsuit alleging police brutality by Fairview Heights police officers, but the department maintains its officers did nothing wrong during the arrest.

The lawsuit, filed by Theresa Sims, 34, and Lakeisha Alston, 35, alleges the officers used "grossly excessive" force during their arrest at the St. Clair Square Mall in February 2016. The pair was charged with disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and criminal trespassing. The charges are still pending. The lawsuit named Sgt. Kurt Schutz, Detective Andrew Ward, Officer Nicholas Ballard and Officer Jon Friederich.

"We expect the highest level of professionalism and proper performance from our police officers," said Fairview Heights Police Chief Nicholas Gailius. "The allegations in the lawsuit filed are just allegations. They are not established facts. Our officers are eager to defend their reputations and performance in this instance ... The officers arrested Sims and Alston with the minimal amount of force necessary."

The lawsuit and police report detail two very different stories, and disagree on almost every aspect. The only things both agree on is that Sims and Alston were standing outside Foot Locker at the St. Clair Square Mall, and that Ward and Schutz were working extra duty at the mall, wearing their uniforms.

While near the Foot Locker, Ward saw a large group of people gathered outside the store for a new shoe release, according to the police report. Mall security had asked for help keeping the area cleared out so the walkway didn't get clogged up. Ward asked people to move on, and most did.

According to Ward's report, Sims was standing in the middle of the walkway. He asked her to move, and she refused, then got argumentative. Alston then began to argue too.

Ward told the pair if they didn't leave, they'd be arrested, he wrote in his report.

"You aren't arresting me," Alston said, according to Ward's report.

Sims called 911 because she was "terrified of this gross overreaction and aggressive behavior," according to the lawsuit. Ward wrote that he asked her to hang up, as she was under arrest. Sims refused, and Ward moved to grab her wrist to take her into custody. Sims pulled away and said not to touch her, Ward wrote.

Ward unholstered his stun gun, then decided against using it, as it would likely not work through their coats, he wrote in his report. The lawsuit alleges he pointed the stun gun at Sims.

Sims tried to walk away from Ward and Schutz, who had come to assist in the arrest, according to the report. She refused to put her phone down, and Schutz went to Sims, while Ward handled Alston, according to the police report.

Schutz yelled, "Mam, (sic) stop you are under arrest," he wrote in his report. He took her arm to slow her down, and Sims told him she was pregnant. She told him to bring the police, and when he said he was the police, she said "I need other police," according to the report.

He decided to not use his stun gun, pepper spray or baton to subdue her because of her statement about being pregnant, the police report stated. He used a "soft empty hands technique" to minimize any possible injury to the baby, he wrote, and moved her over to the wall. She allegedly wouldn't stay still long enough to handcuff her, so he asked one of the mall security officers to assist.

Sims told him he had no right to arrest her or touch her, that he was going to be sued, Schutz wrote in his report.

Ward grabbed Alston's wrists and told her to quit resisting, he wrote in his report. He said he moved her over to the glass wall of Foot Locker so he could handcuff her more easily. Alston alleges he slammed her against the wall and injured her wrist. In Ward's report, he mentioned that Alston complained he had "snapped her wrist" and broken it, but he saw no injury and he said she gave no sign of being in pain.

Sims' aunt, who was present but was not arrested, asked if she could take Sims' two children, a 10-year-old boy and 12-year-old girl, according to the lawsuit. The officers told her she could not take them, and threatened to call the Department of Child and Family Services, according to the lawsuit.

Sims, Alston and the two children were transported to the station, where the lawsuit alleges the children were placed in the jail cell with their mother, shocking and scaring them. The 10-year-old was later diagnosed with PTSD, the lawsuit alleges.

Gailius said it is not policy for them to place children in jail cells, and they have no record of that occurring. Sims and Alston posted bond within three hours of arrest and were released, he said. Gailius said there was no evidence of injury to either woman.

The police report contains transcripts of mall security footage, an interview from the mall security guard and statements from both Schutz and Ward.

Friederich was a responding officer in the incident, but was not mentioned anywhere else in the police reports. Bullard was not mentioned at all.

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