CHICAGO - Bail was set at $5,000 Sunday for a 29-year-old man facing battery and other charges after a Chicago police officer body-slammed him onto a street during his arrest.
The charges against Bernard Kersh, including aggravated battery of an officer, stem from him spitting at and threatening the officer on Thanksgiving afternoon after police approached him at a South Side bus stop on suspicion of drinking alcohol in public, prosecutors said during a hearing Sunday.
A 41-second video posted by a bystander and widely shared online starts with the officer lifting Kersh high off his feet, then slamming his body hard onto the pavement. The back of Kersh’s head appears to strike the curb and he then lies motionless.
Kersh's lawyers and civil rights activists said the incident illustrates how Chicago police can be overly aggressive, especially in predominantly black neighborhoods.
Prosecutor James Murphy said Kersh had earlier licked the 32-year-old officer’s face, threatened him, then spit in his eye. Murphy said “a substantial amount of spit” got in the officer’s eye and some into his mouth.
Even if that were true, one of Kersh's lawyers, Andrew M. Stroth, said in a phone interview Sunday that the force the officer deployed was excessive and violated the department's own use-of-force rules.
"He used a martial arts takedown that could have killed Bernard Kersh," Stroth said. “He is lucky to be alive."
Stroth added that Kersh was clearly not armed and the officer had to know he posed no serious threat.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson and his Rainbow/PUSH Coalition plan to pay 10% of the bail amount, $500, to secure Kersh's release, Stroth said. Jackson was at Sunday’s hearing.
Kersh was hospitalized Thursday but was discharged hours later and jailed, his attorney said. Stroth said the family would take Kersh to a doctor for a full examination once he’s released. The officer also went to a hospital for evaluation.
In addition to the aggravated battery count, Kersh also faces charges of resisting arrest, assault and drinking alcohol in public.
Stroth said Kersh has been diagnosed with schizophrenia and, in a condition he had before Thursday, was blind in one eye.
Kersh has been charged at least 25 times previously, mostly for theft, but once for punching an officer and once for spitting at an officer.
The Civilian Office of Police Accountability is investigating the officer’s response and, as is standard procedure, he has been stripped of his police powers as the case is reviewed.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said in a statement last week that the investigation "will be comprehensive and expedited," and called the video “very disturbing.”