Chicago, IL – A violent suspect who spit in a Chicago police officer’s eye and licked his face two years ago pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor battery charge on Thursday.
Bernard Kersh, 31, was placed on court supervision in connection with the grotesque 2019 attack, WFLD reported.
He was also sentenced to one year in prison, but was given credit for time already served.
Cook County prosecutors dropped his other pending charges in exchange for his guilty plea on the misdemeanor offense, WFLD reported.
Kersh was also arrested on new charges in January of 2020 while he was out on bond for assaulting the officer.
He was subsequently charged with retail theft and aggravated battery for shoving a security guard and stealing tequila and flowers from a store, WFLD reported.
He was sentenced to one year of supervised release on the theft charge on Thursday.
Kersh, then 29, was consuming vodka at a bus stop when Chicago police approached him with the intent of issuing him a citation for drinking alcohol in public, Cook County prosecutor James Murphy told The Washington Post at the time.
According to police, Kersh “became combative as soon as the officers started talking to him,” Murphy said.
The suspect allegedly threatened them, then licked an officer’s face twice and spit in the officer’s eye.
“There was a substantial amount of spit, in liquid form, that landed in the eye of [the officer],” Murphy explained, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Some of the suspect’s spit also dripped into the officer’s mouth, he added.
The attack and subsequent takedown were captured by a store security camera, according to the prosecutor.
Witness Jovanna Alexiss Jamison began recording the scene just as an officer was taking the suspect to the ground, WFLD reported.
The video showed the officer as he grabbed onto Kersh from behind and slammed him onto the cement.
Kersh was motionless after the maneuver, and was subsequently transported to a local hospital for an evaluation.
Warning, this video is graphic! A man was seriously hurt after being slammed to the ground by @Chicago_Police on Thanksgiving Day in Chatham when he allegedly spit on an officer while being detained for drinking alcohol in public. @chicagosmayor Video captured by: Jovanna Jamison pic.twitter.com/jGN1jYq9BF
— Tia A. Ewing (@TIA_EWING) November 29, 2019
“[He] didn’t do anything aggressive – he just stood there,” Jamison said of Kersh, according to WFLD. “He was standing there using his cell phone. They took away his bottle of liquor and threw it.”
The 32-year-old officer who Kersh allegedly licked and spat on was also transported to the hospital for an evaluation.
When Kersh arrived at the University of Chicago hospital, he was so disruptive that he had to be sedated in order to be treated, Murphy told the Chicago Tribune.
After he was evaluated and released, Kersh was arrested for aggravated battery to a police officer, drinking alcohol in public, simple assault, and resisting police, WGCL reported.
According to prosecutors, Kersh suffered “a small scratch the size of a fingernail” on his eyebrow during the emergency takedown, according to the Chicago Tribune.
But his attorney alleged that his client could may have actually suffered a traumatic brain injury.
Attorney Andrew Stroth alleged that the officer could have killed his schizophrenic client by using the brutal “martial arts” takedown maneuver, The Washington Post reported.
“You have an unarmed person who, from our perspective, presents no threat to the officer, and what [the suspect] said is that all of a sudden that officer did that takedown move and bashed his head against the cement,” Stroth told The Washington Post. “The video speaks for itself. He could have easily been killed.”
“Unnecessary force could have cracked his skull,” Jackson said of Kersh’s arrest. “It raises alarm. No one deserves this kind of treatment.”
Judge Arthur Willis said during initial court proceedings it was clear that Kersh was “going through a mental health issue” at the time of the confrontation, but the judge also noted that “spitting in someone’s face such that it dribbles into their eye and mouth” is a “form of violence,” the Chicago Tribune reported.
He ordered that Kersh be held on $5,000 bail. Kersh was later sprung from jail by Reverend Jesse Jackson, WGCL reported.
“Police had no basis for throwing him down in a way that could have killed him. We’ve seen this before, and it must stop,” Jackson said. “I hope that the mayor and those involved will move immediately to deal with this police officer and those who stayed silent and did nothing.”
Civil rights activists were quick to accuse Chicago police of staging a coverup of what they deemed to be a racially-motivated attack.
“This was, for all practical purposes, attempted murder,” Tree of Life Justice League activist Eric Russell told the Chicago Tribune. “We are of the opinion that these bogus criminal cover charges are just that — bogus criminal cover charges to cover up a police crime.”
Russell further alleged that the incident was an example of the “continual pattern of brutality being inflicted upon the black community.”
Kersh’s mother, Keshia Johnson, said that she was on the phone with Kersh when the altercation occurred, The Washington Post reported.
She said that Kersh had left to go buy alcohol for the family’s Thanksgiving dinner, but that he disappeared and she was worried he might be dead.
“We were waiting to eat Thanksgiving dinner for him, because he always blesses the table,” Johnson said, according to The Washington Post.
She later watched the cell phone video that showed her son being taken to the ground.
“To see them just slam him to the concrete like that, it was hard to watch,” Johnson said. “I can’t say [if he spit] or not, but if he did, I still don’t think he deserves to be slammed on his head. He could have killed my son. He could have broke his neck. He could have not woken up.”
“I mean, how about handcuff a person?” she suggested, according to the Chicago Tribune.
According to prosecutors, Kersh was convicted of punching an officer in 2011, the Chicago Tribune reported.
He was also convicted of spitting on an officer in 2018.
Court records showed that Kersh has failed to appear for court on at least 15 occasions in the past, WLS reported.