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Ex-Asheville Officer Charged In Beating Of Jaywalker

Asheville Citizen Times/Asheville Police Department
Officer Chris Hickman tells Johnnie Rush to put his hands behind his back after police stopped Rush over for jaywalking.

The city of Asheville has been roiled over the last week-and-a-half by police footage that shows an officer beating, choking, and using a Taser on a man who was stopped for jaywalking. The officer, Chris Hickman, is white. The man, Johnnie Jermaine Rush, is black. 

In the video, an officer trainee tells Rush he already warned him about jaywalking, and that he’ll have to write him a ticket or arrest him. Hickman steps in.

CHRIS HICKMAN: "Doesn’t matter when he went through, he asked you nicely to stop."

JOHNNIE JERMAINE RUSH: "All I’m trying to do is go home, man. I’m tired. I just got off work."

Rush accuses the officers of harassing him, and Hickman orders him to put his hands behind his back. Rush takes off on foot and Hickman chases him.

HICKMAN: "Black male, white tank top. Thinks it’s funny. You know what’s funny, is you going to get f---ed up hard core. Get on the ground. Put your hands behind your back."

The video shows Hickman hitting him in the head repeatedly, while Rush says he can’t breathe. The incident happened in August 2017, but was only made public last week when the video was leaked to The Asheville Citizen-Times.

Blue Ridge Public Radio’s Matt Bush has been following the case. 

NICK DE LA CANAL: Can you tell us what the reaction was from both the public and from city officials once this video was published?

MATT BUSH: There was a lot of anger - the fact that again, this only became public because the newspaper received the footage, which, in and of itself, is technically an illegal act as this underscores a North Carolina law that police body cam footage is not public record. So this became public and I think a lot of the anger about this was, one, why did this take more than six months for anyone to know this publicly? And, two, more details about the investigation that the city police conducted into officer Hickman and what happened to him, I think, also sparked a lot of outrage because it took very long. He resigned from the force, but it wasn't until four months later that he resigned at a meeting where the police chief was preparing to fire him. The formal criminal investigation started after his resignation and just wrapped up this week. He was just formally charged with criminal charges last night. He's facing three charges: felony charge of assault, a misdemeanor assault charge, and a communicating threats charge. He had his first court appearance this morning and his next appearance in court will be at the beginning of April.

DE LA CANAL: Do we know if Officer Chris Hickman had any past history of violence?

BUSH: City council this week had to go into special session just to vote to make public some personnel records about this particular officer. After this incident, they reviewed 58 hours of bodycam footage from Officer Hickman in other instances and they found four different occasions where they said he used what they called “discourteous or rude behavior” toward members of the public.

DE LA CANAL: I wonder about the man Johnny Jermaine Rush. Have we heard anything from him and where he is now?

BUSH: He has spoken to The Asheville Citizen-Times a few times again. They were the people that broke the story. Some of the things came out about this, again, through some of the public records that were released this week, but also an interview he gave with the Citizen-Times about what happened immediately after that. Officer Hickman's supervisor did interact with him and under some policies that the Asheville police have for use-of-force, she spoke with Officer Hickman and Johnny Rush. She was told by Officer Hickman that he had hit Johnny Rush in the head with a stun gun. This supervisor did not report that to anybody, did not (pass) that information along to anyone. She also, apparently, viewed some of the body cam footage and, again, did not tell anyone about this. That's adding to some of the outrage that there were policies in place. There were some reforms around this, supposedly, that were put in place for the Asheville police, but it was not followed.

DE LA CANAL: Have there been other instances in Asheville of police violence of this kind or other?

BUSH: Two years ago an African-American man was shot and killed by a city police officer. No charges were brought in that case, as the gentleman did have a gun. But there was still lingering resentment. There was a public meeting this week in the city where the police chief and some other city leaders were at and there was still obviously a lot of lingering anger over that particular incident, even though no charges were filed. And I think it just brought forward a lot of the other underlying issues within the city of Asheville, in particular, how African-American residents of the city feel right now - that this incident happened because the police chief that's here now was brought in to bring in some reforms to this department. And there was a feeling maybe some of those were beginning to take hold, but then this incident occurred and they really seemed to undo any progress or goodwill that had been made.