Asheville, NC – Crossing the street in a manner deemed "illegal" by the state can and will get you beaten, shot, kidnapped, caged, and even killed. Body Camera footage was released last month illustrating this dangerous reality. The video 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. Last month, in an extremely rare move by the District Attorney, the cop who was recorded doing the beating has been criminally charged and arrested.
Now, this week, the department has released all the video from the attack which provides new insight into the nature of this most brutal encounter and illustrates why the officer was charged.
District Attorney Todd Williams announced early last month that former officer Chris Hickman, 31, is facing charges of felony assault by strangulation, and misdemeanor assault inflicting serious injury and communicating threats, according to the Citizen-Times.
Hickman then posted $10,000 bail and was released.
The department attempted to keep the video below from the public eye, however, the city of Asheville petitioned the courts to release all the footage related to the incident. On March 26th, a judge ruled that they were to be released, and this week, nine videos were published online.
As TFTP reported last month, 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 originally relased footage was from a camera worn by 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.”
“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.
After watching the videos below, it becomes entirely clear as to why the charges against Rush were dropped and charges against Hickman were brought.
According to the Citizen Times, in response Monday to questions about the videos, including the portions that appear to show Rush being strangled, Hickman's attorney Thomas Amburgey said, "nothing is clear cut."
He gave no further comment.
The city released the following statement about the videos:
Today, the City of Asheville will release nine officer body-worn camera videos related to the use of excessive force against Johnnie Jermaine Rush by former Officer Christopher Hickman in August of 2017.
These videos are disturbing, difficult to watch and may not be appropriate for all ages, as they contain violence and profanity. However, in the interest of public accountability and transparency, the City of Asheville petitioned the Buncombe County Superior Court to release the body-worn camera videos captured the night of August 24 and early morning of August 25, 2017.
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. We have heard your concerns and feedback and we are committed to moving forward with the help of the community. We are encouraged by the community's support as we implement changes towards this goal.
We are dedicated to being leaders who will create a culture where all people are treated with dignity and respect, and will hold accountable any employee who does not conduct themselves in this manner.
In an interview on Monday, Rush asked the following question highlighting the dangerous nature of his encounter with Hickman.
"What would have happened if he had killed me? Then what?" Rush said.
Below are the chilling videos, each with a brief description as provided by WSPA 7 News.
1. Recording is taken from the body-worn camera of Christopher Hickman on August 24, 2017, at 11:52 p.m. The video is taken at the Eblen Short Stop (210 Biltmore Avenue) when Officer Verino Ruggiero first approaches Johnnie Rush about jaywalking as he leaves the convenience store.
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2. Recording is taken from the body-worn camera of Christopher Hickman on August 25, 2017, at 12:01 a.m. This is the original recording that was released by the Asheville Citizen-Times on March 1, 2018. This recording contains violent content and explicit language.
3. Recording is taken from the body-worn camera of Police Officer Luis Delgado on August 25, 2017, at 12:04 a.m. Officer Delgado arrives to the scene and sees a struggle between Christopher Hickman, Officer Ruggiero and Mr. Rush. At the time of Officer Delgado’s arrival Mr. Rush is being tasered. This recording contains violent content and explicit language.
4. Recording is taken from the body-worn camera of Sgt. Lisa Taube on August 25, 2017, at 12:04 a.m. Per the Asheville Police Department’s Use of Force Policy, “a supervisor will respond to the scene of all reportable incidents involving a use of force to conduct a preliminary investigation and collect supplemental documents….” The video contains the supervisors interactions with Mr. Rush, Mr. Rush’s significant other and Christopher Hickman. Sergeant Taube ultimately received disciplinary action for poor performance, and was ordered to undergo remedial training in connection with this incident. This recording contains violent content and explicit language.
5. Recording is taken from the body-worn camera of Senior Police Officer Doug Williams on August 25, 2017, at 12:04 a.m. SPO Williams arrived to the scene as Mr. Rush is being walked across the street to Hickman’s patrol vehicle. This video contains explicit language.
6. Recording is taken from the body-worn camera of Senior Police Officer Shawn Parker on August 25, 2017, at 12:07 a.m. SPO Parker arrived to the scene as Mr. Rush is being walked across the street to Hickman’s patrol vehicle. This video contains explicit language.
7. Recording is taken from the body-worn camera of Officer Colby Davis on August 25, 2017, at 12:08 a.m. Officer Davis arrived on the scene after Mr. Rush was taken across the street to Hickman’s patrol vehicle. This video contains explicit language.
8. Recording is taken from the body-worn camera of Senior Police Officer Shawn Parker on August 25, 2017, at 12:31 a.m. It shows SPO Parker interacting with Mr. Rush’s significant other, as well as other officers who arrive on-scene. This video contains explicit language.
9. Recording is taken from the body-worn camera of Christopher Hickman on August 25, 2017, at 1:22 a.m. The recording is taken in the parking lot of Mission Hospital following Mr. Rush’s release from the hospital. The video shows Christopher Hickman, Officer Verino Ruggiero and Mr. Rush talking about the earlier incident in the Mission Parking lot, and then the drive to the Buncombe County Detention Facility.