Lawsuit: Chicago LEO's emergency takedown of man who spit in his eye was 'retaliation'

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Rosemary Sobol
Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO — A man who was body-slammed against a curb by a Chicago police officer after allegedly spitting in the cop's face is suing the officer and the city, contending he was the victim of a "mixed martial arts takedown" that has left him "in danger of going blind in his left eye."

Bernard Kersh, 29, claims the officer is a trained mixed martial arts fighter known as “Bacon and Eggs,” and argues that his actions were intended to inflict “punishment or retaliation” rather than de-escalate the situation.

The Chicago Police Department has removed the officer and his partner from active duty while it investigates the incident last Thanksgiving in Chatham on the South Side.

The officers, dressed in plainclothes and in an unmarked squad car, were on routine patrol about 4 p.m. Nov. 28 when they saw Kersh drinking vodka at a bus shelter at 79th Street and Cottage Grove Avenue, prosecutors have said.

One of the officers had taken away the vodka and was preparing to write Kersh a ticket for drinking on the public way when Kersh spit in the officer’s face, according to police and prosecutors.

According to the suit, the officer “wrapped his arms around Mr. Kersh and body-slammed Mr. Kersh, smashing his head into a concrete curb and knocking him unconscious.’’ The officer then “utilized a second MMA maneuver on Mr. Kersh — a forearm strike to his head,’’ the lawsuit alleges.

Kersh refused medical treatment from an ambulance that arrived at the scene. He was taken to the University of Chicago Medical Center, where he had to be sedated in order to be treated, prosecutors said.

Kersh was charged with aggravated battery to a police officer and spent five nights in Cook County Jail. “There was a substantial amount of spit, in liquid form, that landed in the eye of (the officer),” Assistant State’s Attorney James Murphy said during Kersh’s bond hearing.

Murphy said surveillance video from a store on Cottage Grove shows Kersh licking the police officer’s face and spitting at him before the “emergency takedown.”

Kersh had been convicted in 2018 of spitting on a police officer and in 2011 of punching an officer.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot called video of the incident — widely circulated online — “very disturbing.” It renewed tensions over the department’s treatment of minorities.

The lawsuit cites a January 2017 finding by the U.S. Department of Justice, which found Chicago police had a pervasive “pattern and practice’’ of civil rights abuses. “This incident is yet another example of the continuing injustice and maltreatment of disenfranchised minority citizens by CPD officers,’’ the suit states.

The suit also refers to the city’s failure to comply with a federal consent decree aimed at reforming the department.