Asheville police officer in beating video arrested on assault, other charges
Warning: This video contains graphic content. An Asheville police body camera captured this encounter near the corner of Biltmore and Short Coxe avenues in August 2017. Citizen Times
ASHEVILLE - The police officer seen in a body cam video beating a city resident accused of jaywalking and trespassing through the parking lot of closed business has been criminally charged and arrested in the incident.
District Attorney Todd Williams announced Thursday night that former officer Chris Hickman, 31, is facing charges of felony assault by strangulation, and misdemeanor assault inflicting serious injury and communicating threats. Johnnie Jermaine Rush is seen in the video being beaten in the head by Hickman, as well as choked. After a Taser is picked up, a clicking and humming noise is heard as Rush cries out in pain.
Hickman resigned his post in January.
The former officer was released on a $10,000 unsecured bond.
He walked out of the jail at about 8:45 p.m. accompanied by another man, who shined a light at a cellphone camera of a reporter trying to take a photo. Hickman walked straight ahead and didn't answer or react when asked if he was guilty of the charges. Both men left in a pickup truck.
Arrest warrants at the Buncombe County Magistrate's Office describe details gleaned from Hickman’s body camera footage from the August encounter with Rush. News of the incident became public after the Citizen Times obtained the footage and published it along with a story Feb. 28.
The footage shows Hickman and a police trainee stopping Rush on Short Coxe Avenue south of downtown around midnight Aug. 25. The trainee, who is not facing any charges, confronts Rush, saying he had warned him previously about jaywalking and trespassing and that he has two choices: to write Rush a ticket or arrest him.
Rush, who in a later interview said he had just finished a 13-hour shift at the Cracker Barrel, said he just wanted to go home and accused the officers of harassing him. The encounter gets heated and Hickman orders Rush to put his hands behind his back. Rush runs and Hickman chases him.
Hickman says Rush is laughing, though nothing from Rush can be heard in the footage.
The warrant notes that Hickman then says, “You’re going to get (expletive) up hardcore,” bringing the charge of communicating threats.
“The threat was made in a manner and under circumstances which would cause a reasonable person to believe that the threat was likely to be carried out and the person threatened believed that the threat would be carried out,” the warrant says.
Rush said in a later interview that he then stopped. The video shows Hickman grabbing him, and both go to the ground.
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In the assault charge, the warrant states Hickman “unlawfully and willfully did assault and strike Johnnie Jermaine Rush by repeatedly striking the victim about the head and face thereby inflicting serious injury abrasions and swelling to the head.”
Rush shared photos with the Citizen Times that he said were taken of him shortly after the event. One shows deep abrasions on a limb that he said came from the ground. Layers of skin can be seen missing. Another shows his head with cuts and swelling on the right side.
At another point in the video footage, Rush’s face can be seen with what appear to be hands on his throat. At other points, he says repeatedly he can’t breathe and arms that appear to be Hickman’s are visible near his face.
The choking charge states there is probable cause to believe that Hickman assaulted Rush, “causing loss of consciousness by strangulation placing his arms around his throat and squeezing.”