In a rare move, the city of Asheville, N.C., has released body camera footage of a police officer choking a man and punching him in the head multiple times — allegedly after the man was jaywalking.
North Carolina state law does not normally allow the release of police videos without a court order; however, the city petitioned and was granted permission to release all footage relating to the event last August by the Buncombe County Superior Court. Nine videos have been released.
The video footage goes something like this: Former officer Christopher Hickman and officer in training Verino Ruggiero are working on a late summer night. Both officers are white. They claim to see Johnnie Rush, who is black, walk across the street without using a crosswalk four times.
The officers stop Rush near McCormick Field, which, according to The Citizen Times, is where "hundreds of pedestrians cross Biltmore Avenue without using a crosswalk before and after baseball games."
Ruggiero confronts Rush, who says he is going home after work. The officer offers two options: arrest or a ticket. "All I'm trying to do is go home, man," Rush says.
Hickman begins to yell, telling Rush to put his hands behind his back. He grabs for Rush, and Rush begins to run. The officers pursue him, Hickman saying in the video "You're gonna get f***** up hardcore."
Backup arrives. Officers catch Rush, hold him down and proceed to punch him in the head and place him in a chokehold. "I can't breathe," Rush says between gasps — an eerie parallel to Eric Garner. Garner died in 2014 when a New York police officer held him in a chokehold, sparking national outcry.
Rush does not die. The police officers use a Taser on him; Rush wails and calls for help. He is eventually handcuffed. "Now it's serious, bro," Hickman says.
A supervisor, Sgt. Lisa Taube, arrives on the scene and Hickman recounts what he claims happened after the officers stopped Rush for jaywalking. "He yelled at us," he said. Rush was "punkin' out Ruggiero." Hickman adds he "beat the s*** out of [Rush's] head, not gonna lie about that."
Hickman was removed from patrol duty the day after the incident and according to the city of Asheville resigned from the police department before being terminated. The city calls Hickman's actions "unacceptable" and says Taube's performance that night also resulted in disciplinary action.
The FBI has opened an investigation into the event.
Hickman appeared in court Monday, where he is facing felony assault charges. In a statement sent to NPR, his attorney Thomas Amburgey said: "Christopher Hickman served the city of Asheville for 10 years and received numerous commendations. It's unfortunate that so many individuals have rushed to judge my client. I am confident that when a fair and impartial jury hears the whole story that Mr. Hickman will be acquitted. Any notion that my client had any criminal intent to harm Mr. Rush is without basis."