CHICAGO (AP) — A man who was body-slammed by a Chicago police officer during a 2019 arrest that was caught on video and sparked outage pleaded guilty to spitting in the officer’s face just before the incident.
Bernard Kersh, 31, pleaded guilty Thursday to a misdemeanor count of battery. In exchange for his guilty plea, Cook County prosecutors dropped aggravated battery and other charges he had faced.
The judge sentenced Kersh to about a year in prison, which effectively amounted to the time he’s served, given the credit he’s earned over nearly two years awaiting trial in the Cook County Jail and on electronic monitoring, the Chicago Tribune reported.
On Thanksgiving Day in 2019, police said Kersh was drinking vodka at a bus shelter on the city’s South Side when officers approached him and took the bottle away.
Police said Kersh, who is Black, spit in an officer’s face before the officer body-slammed him. Prosecutors said “a substantial amount of spit” got into the officer’s eye and that some got into his mouth.
Cellphone video taken by a bystander and later released by the Civilian Office of Police Accountability showed the officer suddenly lift Kersh high off his feet and then slam him hard into the pavement. The back of Kersh’s head appeared to strike the curb and he was immediately motionless. He was eventually placed in the back of a squad car and taken to a hospital.
The video sparked outrage and concern, with Mayor Lori Lightfoot calling it “very disturbing” and activists saying it was part of a continued pattern of police brutality against the Black community.
Several Chicago police officers were disciplined for their roles in the incident.
Kersh, whose attorneys say he has mental health issues, sued the city and the officer who body-slammed him in February of 2020. The lawsuit alleges that Kersh suffered serious head, neck and shoulder injuries and that the officer should have known the maneuver was dangerous because he is a mixed martial arts fighter.
Andrew M. Stroth, Kersh’s lead attorney in that suit, told The Associated Press on Friday that the litigation remains pending “and that the family is seeking to get justice for what the officers did to Bernard.”