Officer, police union sue St. Paul over release of squad car video in Hightower case

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A video released by the St. Paul Police Department this week featuring a St. Paul police officer during the controversial arrest of Eric Ronnell Hightower last August is the subject of a new lawsuit.

The Pioneer Press reports that Officer Matthew Gorans -- who is shown in a squad car video with Hightower -- is suing the city of St. Paul. The St. Paul Police Federation has also filed suit.

Hightower was charged with stalking and threatening his ex-girlfriend in the August incident.

The lawsuit was served on the city, but was not filed in court. It claims the release of the video violates the Peace Officer Discipline Procedures Act, which is a Minnesota statute.

According to the act, "No law enforcement agency or governmental unit may publicly release photographs of an officer without the written permission of the officer."

The Pioneer Press says the St. Paul Police Department released the video of Gorans and other squad videos of responding officers in response to media requests.

The federation's president and union's attorney also took issue with a Pioneer Press article about the release of the video, which claimed Gorans pepper-sprayed Hightower in the ear during the arrest.

Federation president Dave Titus said if Gorans pepper-sprayed Hightower in the ear, it was unintentional; and attorney Chris Wachtler added, "To jump to the conclusion that he's filling his ear with Mace is blatantly wrong."

The release of the in-squad video follows the YouTube posting of a video of Hightower's arrest taken by a bystander last August. In the video, the suspect is shown lying on the ground during an arrest before Officer Jesse Zilge kicked Hightower.

The Olmsted County Attorney’s Office reviewed the case to avoid a conflict of interest for their Ramsey County counterparts, and declined to file felony charges against Zilge and Gorans, who was the other arresting officer.

According to the Pioneer Press, the office noted that the officers knew the suspect had been combative in the past, that a crowd was growing prior to backup arriving, and that the suspect was not following commands.

Last month, the St. Paul Police Chief Thomas Smith made a decision to discipline Zilge and Gorans, but no further details were available because the case is in a grievance process.

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