Asheville, NC – Body Camera footage has been released that shows one police officer restraining a man down while another officer repeatedly punches him in the head after they confronted him for the crime of jaywalking.
Johnnie Jermaine Rush, 33, had just finished a 13-hour shift at a local Cracker Barrel restaurant and was leaving a store on his way home when he was approached by Verino Ruggiero, an officer in training. In the Body Cam footage published by the Citizen Times, Ruggiero claimed he had warned Rush about jaywalking.
"All I’m trying to do is go home, man. I‘m tired. I just got off work," Rush replied.
The Body Cam footage is from a camera worn by Officer Chris Hickman, who was in the patrol car with Ruggiero. While Ruggiero was the one directly confronting Rush, Hickman stood on the other side of the vehicle.
“I've got two options: I can either arrest you or write you a ticket,” Ruggiero told Rush.
"It doesn't matter to me, man. Do what you have got to do, besides keep harassing me,” Rush replied.
“I’m not harassing you,” Ruggiero insisted.
“That’s all in your mind, man,” Hickman interjected. He then directed his attention towards his fellow officer and said, “Just write him a ticket. He wants to act like a punk.”
It is clear from the Body Cam footage that traffic was light at that time of night, and the Citizen Times noted that the confrontation happened near a corner were hundreds of pedestrians typically cross without using a crosswalk before and after games at a nearby baseball field.
When Rush let out an exasperated string of obscenities, Hickman apparently decided that a ticket was not enough. He began marching towards Rush, pointing his finger at him and yelling, “Put your hands behind your back! Don’t! Don’t! Do NOT! Stop, drop the bag. Put your hands behind your back.”
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“OK, OK,” Rush responded before he slipped from the officer’s grasp and started running in the opposite direction.
“Motherf—ker … thinks it’s funny. You know what’s funny is that you’re going to get f—ked up hardcore!” Hickman yelled as he pulled out his Taser and chased after Rush.
Rush stopped running and both officers forced him to the ground and piled on top of him. While both Hickman and Ruggiero restrained Rush on the ground, Hickman is seen on the Body Cam footage punching him in the head several times.
“I can’t breathe!” Rush cried out multiple times as he was punched repeatedly and hit with the officer’s Taser twice. He was taken to the hospital after the incident, and he told the Citizen Times that while he was there, “Hickman was abusive to him and used a racial slur.”
Rush was initially charged with assault on a government official; resisting, delaying and obstructing an officer; trespass and traffic offenses. However, those charges have all been dismissed.
Police Chief Tammy Hooper told the Citizen Times that when she and District Attorney Todd Williams asked the State Bureau of Investigation to initiate a criminal investigation, it declined and did not give a reason.
Although it does not appear that Hickman or Ruggiero have faced any charges for their actions, Hooper confirmed that the department launched a criminal investigation into Hickman’s actions in January, and he is no longer working for the department.
As The Free Thought Project has reported, a study on the cases in which pedestrians received tickets for jaywalking or “crossing the street improperly” found that most individuals were ticketed in error because the officers did not know the law.
While some law enforcement agencies admitted that their officers used crosswalk tickets as a way to stop and question people they suspected of criminal activity, it should also be noted that several of the officers who attempt to issue the tickets, or to find out more information about the individuals they believed were suspects, have also been accused of excessive force.
Examples include a man who was tackled to the ground and beaten by police in Millville, New Jersey; a man who was beaten, stripped naked and mocked by police in Del Paso Heights, California; and a teenager who was tackled and choked to the ground by police in Fresno, California. All of these cases have one thing in common—the safety of the subject who was allegedly crossing the street improperly was used as an excuse by officers who then threatened the subject’s safety by using excessive force.