The city of Asheville, North Carolina, released “disturbing, difficult to watch” videos from nine body-worn cameras related to the beating and tasing of a man who was suspected by police of jaywalking, the city said.
One video from an officer on the scene shows Asheville police officer Christopher Hickman wrap his arms around the man’s neck from behind as police attempt to subdue him.
The footage provides greater insight into the August 2017 arrest of Johnnie Jermaine Rush, the man Asheville police arrested for jaywalking.
Hickman, 31, was removed from patrol duty a day after the incident. He resigned from the department in January, the same day that he was to be terminated, according to a timeline of the case released by the city council.
Video of the arrest recorded by Hickman’s body camera was published by the Asheville Citizen-Times on February 28, setting off outrage in the western North Carolina city. The newspaper has not revealed how it obtained the video.
Hickman was taken into custody on March 8 and charged with one count each of assault by strangulation, assault inflicting serious injury and communicating threats, the city said.
“Christopher Hickman served the City of Asheville for 10 years and received numerous commendations,” Thomas Amburgey, an attorney for Hickman, said in a statement. “It’s unfortunate that so many individuals have rushed to judge my client. I am confident that when a fair and impartial jury hears the whole story that Mr. Hickman will be acquitted. Any notion that my client had any criminal intent to harm Mr. Rush is without basis.”
The city on Monday also released video recorded a little more than an hour after Rush’s arrest, in which he, Hickman and an officer in training can be heard candidly discussing the incident as they are standing outside a hospital.
“No disrespect with you sir, I understand that I ran and whatnot, but you didn’t have to keep punching me and choking me,” Rush said.
“Yeah, I did,” Officer Hickman said. “Because you never complied with my order.”
Rush said he wasn’t able to comply and put his hands behind his back because he was on the ground being choked.
“I didn’t start choking you until after I probably punched you ten times,” Hickman responded.
Nine videos released
In another of the videos taken after the use of force, Hickman speaks to a supervisor, Sgt. Lisa Taube, on the scene and admits to using the taser to punch the man in the face several times.
“I hit him in the face as if it was a club like three times. That was effective,” Hickman says. “That’s what happened to his left side, I punched him in the face with it about as hard as I could.”
A Buncombe County Superior Court Judge granted the City of Asheville’s petition to release the video, which was made public Monday at 2 p.m.
In an open letter from the Asheville City Council, Interim City Manager Cathy Ball and Police Chief Tammy Hooper said the videos were being released in the interest of transparency.
“This incident has created a loss of trust within the community, particularly among people of color. The City of Asheville understands that there is substantial work to do to restore the public’s trust,” they said in a statement.
Rush initially was charged with second-degree trespassing and resisting a public officer. He filed a complaint with police the day he was arrested alleging Hickman used excessive force.
Chief Hooper watched the body camera footage and ordered Hickman off the street and told him to turn in his badge and gun, according to a timeline from the city.
The district attorney and Asheville police agreed to dismiss the charges against Rush in September after watching the body camera footage, according to documents from the City Council.
Supervisor’s actions under scrutiny
The actions of Hickman’s supervisor, Sgt. Taube, have also drawn criticism. Department policy requires the supervisor in a use of force incident to conduct a preliminary investigation and collect supplemental documents from all parties.
In video from her body camera, Taube can be seen arriving at the scene, speaking to Hickman and listening to his side of the story. She then goes to speak to Rush in the back of a police vehicle.
As Rush tells his version of events and says that he was hit in the face and choked, she repeatedly interrupts him and disagrees with him.
“You were in the wrong. You were told by an officer (you’re) under arrest,” she said. “You resisted and did not comply and ran away.”
Later, she speaks with a woman who identifies herself as the mother of Rush’s son. Taube tells her that Rush was being arrested for resisting arrest and trespassing, and suggests he may also receive charges for being “intoxicated” and disruptive.
The woman says she just saw Rush and that he didn’t have anything to drink.
“Well, he’s intoxicated on something,” Taube says.
Sgt. Taube received disciplinary action for “poor performance,” the city of Asheville said on its website, and was ordered to undergo remedial training in connection with the incident.
CNN emailed Sgt. Taube and received an automated response that she will be out of the office until April 11.
What Hickman’s video showed
Hickman’s body camera video begins as he and his partner stop Rush, then 32, for allegedly jaywalking in the early morning hours of August 25, 2017. After some initial words are exchanged, Hickman moves to arrest Rush, who then flees on foot.
“(He) thinks it’s funny,” Hickman is heard saying as he chases Rush. “You know what’s funny is you’re gonna get f—ed up hardcore.”
The officers catch Rush and tackle him to the ground. As Rush is being restrained on the ground, Hickman punches him in the head several times, shoots him with a stun gun and puts his hand around Rush’s neck.
“I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe!” Rush repeatedly yells. “Help! Help!”
Later in the video, Hickman speaks with another officer on the scene.
“I beat the s— out of his head,” Hickman says. “Not gonna lie about that.”
The ACLU of North Carolina was one of a number of organizations and residents that criticized the officer’s actions.
“There is no excuse for what happened to Johnnie Rush,” the ACLU of North Carolina said in a tweet. “Police must protect and serve everyone, regardless of race. Instead, a Black man gets beaten, tased, and choked over jaywalking. That’s right, jaywalking.”
Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer apologized last month to Rush in a statement on behalf of the City Council.
“The City Council and I immediately contacted city administration to express our outrage at the treatment of Mr. Rush and our outrage of not being informed about the actions of APD officers,” Manheimer wrote. “We will have accountability and, above all, transparency.”
By Eric Levenson, CNN