North Carolina city releases bodycam videos related to beating of jaywalking suspect

Posted at 3:30 PM, Apr 02, 2018

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 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 they attempt to subdue him.

The footage provides greater insight into the August 2017 arrest of Johnnie Jermaine Rush, the man beaten, choked and tased by an Asheville police officer who suspected him of 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.

CNN telephoned and emailed Hickman's attorney on Monday afternoon but has not heard back from him.

Nine videos released

In one of the videos taken after the use of force, Hickman speaks to a supervisor 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's petition to release the video, which was made public Monday at 2 p.m. The city asked to release the videos "in the interest of transparency," the city said on its website.

"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," the city said.

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.

Police Chief Tammy 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.

What Hickman's video showed

That video begins as Hickman 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."