CHAMPAIGN — A federal excessive force lawsuit filed Friday alleges that the actions of Champaign police officer Matt Rush caused a woman with a history of mental health issues to lose her unborn child.
The lawsuit, the fourth of its kind against Rush, was filed by Precious Jackson of Champaign. In the past few months, Champaign has settled three other lawsuits filed against Rush for a total of $320,000.
The suit also alleges that Rush and other officers denied Jackson medical care and falsely arrested her to cover up Rush’s actions. The suit alleges that the city was responsible for the incident because it failed to properly train the officers and knew Rush “had a tendency to punch people.”
Rush, who was on unpaid leave as of Feb. 2, was fired by Chief Anthony Cobb in August 2014 for lying on police reports and misconduct that led to three separate internal investigations, including one in the Jackson incident that said Rush used excessive force and omitted that he punched Jackson when he was writing his report. The firing was overturned by an independent arbitrator who reduced termination to three separate suspensions of 1, 3 and 30 days.
The most severe punishment was for the incident involving Jackson, which ultimately led to Cobb’s decision. The News-Gazette obtained video of the incident through the Freedom of Information act.
How the incident played out, according to the lawsuit:
On May 26, 2014, Rush and police Sgt. Matt Crane responded to a kitchen fire at Jackson’s residence at 610 Goldenview in Champaign. Jackson wasn’t home, but the officers were able to put out the fire. The officers were familiar with the house and knew Jackson had a history of mental health problems, so they went out to look for her.
Around 7:22 a.m., Rush saw Jackson in the 1600 block of University Avenue. He pulled his car next to Jackson and yelled “come here.” Jackson didn’t comply and continued walking down the sidewalk. Rush ran out of his car and chased Jackson.
Jackson turned around to face Rush, and he tackled her and slammed her to the ground. He straddled her and put his full body weight on Jackson’s stomach and torso. Jackson was only wearing a nightgown, which came up and exposed her breasts and vagina. While on top of Jackson, Rush punched her, sprayed her in the eyes with OC spray, kneed her in the thigh and groin.
“All of the force described above was unnecessary and unreasonable under the circumstances,” the lawsuit reads.
The suit later adds: “The foregoing actions of Officer Rush put (Jackson) in tremendous pain, caused eye burning, blurred vision, bruising, and further caused (her) to bleed from her vagina. Upon information and belief, the actions of Officer Rush also caused (Jackson) to lose her unborn child.”
The suit also names the city of Champaign, Crane and Officer Ashley Petkunas as defendants.
The suit alleges that Jackson begged Crane and Petkunas to be taken to the hospital for medical treatment and to clean her eyes from OC spray, but was instead put into Petkunas’ car, while the officers had a meeting.During a six-minute meeting, the officers agreed to arrest Jackson on charges of aggravated battery to a police officer, resisting arrest and criminal damage to property. The criminal damage to property charge was for an earlier incident at Thornton’s, where an unknown person smashed a bottle of alcohol, according to the suit.
The suit says that Rush said he knew Jackson was not involved in the Thornton’s incident because of the timing of the fire and the distance to Thornton’s.
The suit alleges that Petkunas took Jackson to the Champaign County Jail instead of the hospital despite Jackson’s “serious and obvious medical need” and repeated cries to do so, and that the officers never cleaned out Jackson’s eyes.
Jackson’s attorney, Shneur Nathan, was also the attorney for Benjmain Mann and Kisica Seets, who settled excessive force lawsuits against Rush for $225,000 and $30,000, respectively.