The City of Asheville released body camera footage Monday of the violent arrest of Johnnie Rush, a black man who was tased, beaten and put into a chokehold by a police officer on suspicion of jaywalking in August 2017.
The new footage, which shows the entire incident from multiple angles, shows Rush being placed in a chokehold, and the arresting officer Christopher Hickman complaining in the aftermath "I have blood all over me" and admitting that he "beat the shit out of his head."
While in the chokehold, Rush can be heard saying "I can't breathe," reminiscent of the final words of Eric Garner, who was killed by police in Staten Island, New York in 2014. That killing and those words became a rallying cry for the growing Black Lives Matter movement.
Rush survived the incident, but Hickman is facing felony and misdemeanor assault charges, as well as a federal civil rights investigation. The incident brought renewed scrutiny to heavy-handed policing broadly, but also the Asheville Police Department which had just implemented a new use of force policy.
“What happened in these recordings is unacceptable and does not meet the standards of the Asheville Police Department, the the values of the City of Asheville, or the expectations of Asheville residents,” the city said, in a statement after releasing the tapes. “Christopher Hickman, who used dangerous and excessive force against Johnnie Rush, was quickly taken off the street, and subsequently resigned from the police department before he was terminated.”
Rush had just gotten off work at Cracker Barrel, and says he was going to the shop to buy a beer when police attempted to stop him for jaywalking. He was apprehended after running from police.
“No disrespect to you sir, I understand that I ran and whatnot, but you didn’t have to keep punching and choking me,” Rush tells Hickman.
“Yeah I did,” Hickman replies. “Because you never complied with my order.”
In one of the videos, after the beating, Rush is seen handcuffed, and being led to the patrol car by Hickman and another officer. “Don’t look at me with your spitty blood face,” Hickman tells Rush. The officers remove the Taser probes from Rush’s skin, and as they’re putting him in the car, supervising Sergeant Lisa Taube asks Hickman if he’s OK.
“Are you OK Chris?”
“I have blood all over me. From his face,” Hickman replies. “Asshole.”
“I beat the shit out of his head. Not gonna lie about that,” Hickman later says when recounting what happened.
“Was the Taser effective?” asks Taube.
“No,” Hickman says. “I hit him in the face as if it was a club three times, and that was effective. That’s what happened to his left side. I punched him in the face as hard as I could. FYI that’s why his eye looks like that.”
There’s also a discussion among the officers that ensues following Rush’s request for medical attention. “I don’t think he needs to go to hospital,” Taube says.
Taube, who is also heard interacting with the mother of Rush’s son, received “disciplinary action and mandatory retraining” after investigators determined that her conduct “constituted unsatisfactory performance” under department policy.
The City of Asheville said that Hickman’s actions “damaged the progress the Asheville Police Department has made in the last several years in improving community trust.”
In 2016, the Asheville Police Department partnered with the Vera Institute of Justice to establish a Community Police Policy Work Group which sought to update its use of force policy with the input of groups including Black Lives Matter, the NAACP and the Racial Justice Coalition.
The department implemented its revised use of force policy in May 2017. That policy says officers should avoid putting someone in a chokehold or striking them with an instrument like a taser “unless lethal force is reasonably believed to be necessary.”
Thomas Amburgey, Hickman’s lawyer, is confident that his client will be acquitted. “Any notion that my client had any criminal intent to harm Mr. Rush is without basis," said Amburgey in a statement.
Cover image: In this Aug. 25, 2017 image made from video and released by the Asheville, (N.C.) Police Department, Johnnie Jermaine Rush grimaces after officer Christopher Hickman overpowers Rush in a chokehold, in Asheville, N.C. (Asheville Police Department via AP)