Asheville City Council plans closed session after officer beating of resident
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 City Council will hold a special closed session Monday evening in the wake of revelations of police beating a man an officer said was jaywalking and trespassing for crossing the parking lot of a business closed for the night.
One possible change at the city is already in motion: a new policy to ensure municipal leaders are aware of potential policy brutality incidents quickly, not as happened with recent events where City Manager Gary Jackson and council members said they learned of the Aug. 24 beating through media reports half a year later.
Monday's closed session will be the first time the council has met since footage of the officer body camera, which was obtained by the Citizen Times, was made public Feb. 28.
The footage shows the resident being struck on the head repeatedly while pinned to the ground and also shocked twice with a stun gun.
The special session is set to start at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall. The council is expected to convene then immediately go behind closed doors. It's not known if any council members will make public statements or if the council will take any action in public after the closed session.
Mayor Esther Manheimer has said the council will talk during the closed session about unveiling more information on Chris Hickman, the former Asheville Police Department officer whose bodycam footage shows him beating resident Johnnie Jermaine Rush.
“The purpose of this meeting is, in part, to discuss the release of additional information related to a former APD officer's use of force,” Manheimer said.
Under the state laws cited by the council in order to meet in private, the elected officials would also be able to discuss different issues, including the status of other employees.
The council has direct powers — hiring, firing, disciplinary actions and pay increases — over a few employees: the city manager, city attorney and city clerk. But the council can discuss the status of the hundreds of other employees supervised by City Manager Gary Jackson, and also the staff of City Attorney Robin Currin.
State law forbids the release of certain personnel information of local government employees. It also allows the council to meet in private to discuss issues with the city attorney.
The state laws cited by the council include North Carolina General Statute 143-318.11, which is to "consider the qualifications, competence, performance, character, fitness, conditions of appointment, or conditions of initial employment of an individual public officer or employee or prospective public officer or employee; or to hear or investigate a complaint, charge, or grievance by or against an individual public officer or employee."
The mayor, council members and Jackson said they didn't know about the Aug. 24 beating until a video and story published by the Citizen Times. Council members expressed outrage about the beating — and at not having been told about it by police.
But in statements made Saturday to the Citizen Times, Police Chief Tammy Hooper said she consulted in late August with a member of the city attorney's office, Assistant City Attorney John Maddux.
Hooper said she also spoke with Interim Assistant City manager Jade Dundas, though she declined to say what details she shared with Dundas, who reports to Jackson.
On Monday Dundas said he didn't recall details of the conversation or the date it happened. Hooper has said she spoke with Dundas shortly after an Aug. 25 complaint was made.
"That conversation took place quite a while ago," Dundas said.
He said at the time he did not see the video, which by state law can be viewed only by a select few, meaning primarily people captured in the footage.
Dundas, the water department director, was tapped not long ago to fill in as assistant city manager. But he said he has been in municipal government for "quite a while" and has had similar conversations on how to move forward with issues of alleged personnel misconduct.
Asked about any protocol for telling the city manager about such incidents, Dundas said that was something they were now working on.
"I think in the review of our future processes, this will be addressed. We will identify items and reasons for presenting these through the management chain and once we encounter a situation, that may be identified as something that needs to be elevated, it will be."
Maddux did not immediately return calls seeking comment Monday afternoon.