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Government, Politics & Issues

Fairview Heights Probes Officer’s Use Of Force On Black Teens. Alderman Calls For Change

A screenshot from a video posted to social media of a Fairview Heights police officer using force to break up a fight at SkyZone. Police said they are investigating the officer’s use of force.
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A screenshot from a video posted to social media of a Fairview Heights police officer using force to break up a fight at SkyZone. Police said they are investigating the officer’s use of force.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published by the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.

A Fairview Heights alderman is calling for an investigation and the suspension of a city police officer who can be seen in social media videos physically intervening in a fight between two young Black teenagers.

Alderman Ryan Vickers says the officer’s use of force was “inappropriate,” but that it is endemic in a police department that employs just one Black officer.

Fairview Heights Police confirmed the incident occurred at SkyZone, 10850 Lincoln Trail, on Saturday. Witnesses captured the events on videos they posted on social media. They appear to show a white police officer, whose name the department will not provide, breaking up a fight between the two female juveniles.

The male officer uses his fist on the two Black juveniles, who are pulling at each other’s hair.

Fairview Heights Public Information Officer Tim Mueller said the department is investigating the incident internally, as it does any time an officer uses force. The officer has not been placed on leave, Mueller said.

“We are aware of videos circulating of some of the activities during the melee and are investigating the conduct of the patrons and officers on scene,” according to a release issued by the Fairview Heights Police Department Thursday afternoon.

The release said that more than 200 patrons packed the indoor trampoline park and management asked officers to disperse the crowd. Four Fairview Heights officers were on the scene with assistance from an unspecified number of O’Fallon, Caseyville and Belleville police officers and St. Clair County Sheriff’s deputies.

“The crowd was so large several other agencies were requested to respond to lend assistance controlling and escorting juveniles away from the business,” the releases stated. “While officers were there, several fights between juveniles broke out in the parking lot and vestibule of the business.”

Four female juveniles, who will not be identified due to their ages, were taken into police custody for disorderly conduct and obstructing officers. They were later released to their parents, according to the release.

No serious injuries were reported, Mueller said.

‘Inappropriate’ use of force

Video of the incident spread throughout social media, garnering more than 4,000 views and hundreds of shares. One viewer was Vickers, who is calling for the officer to be suspended pending the investigation.

“I’m calling for him to be suspended until we figure this out,” Vickers said. “We at least need to go through the process and have an investigation.”

Vickers said he’s talked to several mothers whose daughters were arrested following the incident who agree the amount of force that was used by the officer was inappropriate.

For Vickers, the video was hard to watch. He said it’s another example of unnecessary force being used against Black people, and in this instance young Black teens.

“They’re 12- to 14-year-old girls,” Vickers said. “At a certain point in time, we have to ask ourselves if the training is messed up.”

Call for city council to act

Vickers said the city will continue to struggle in its response to similar situations until meaningful changes are put in place to tackle the lack of diversity in the police department.

“With this issue, you’ve got 35 officers and one Black cop and one female cop,” He said. “Do we have a force that looks like our city? One Black cop isn’t going to cut it for a town that is 45% Black.”

That issue is especially important now, Vickers added, in the wake of the killing of George Floyd.

Vickers admits there’s no easy way to quickly add diversity to the police force. But he said at the very least, the city council could take action to mandate diversity in its hiring practices.

“It gets down to what you want to move your weight on,” Vickers said. “We can run from the issues we’ve got and say we’re a perfect city but at the end of the day Fairview’s problem isn’t potholes. We have structural issues with our police force.”

Fairview Heights Mayor Mark Kupsky’s assistant said he was unavailable for comment because he is recovering from surgery, and forwarded any requests for comment to the police department.

Kavahn Mansouri is a reporter with the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.

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