Asheville City Council wants probe into police bias after beating
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 wants an audit to look into racial bias among police, the council said in a Wednesday statement.
Council members also said they want an audit into why they were not notified of the Aug. 24 police beating of an Asheville resident stopped for jaywalking and trespassing by walking through the parking lot of a business that had already closed for the night.
The council issued the statement two days after a three-hour special closed session Monday to discuss the incident involving Asheville Police Department officer Chris Hickman and resident Johnnie Rush. Before the session had ended, City Manager Gary Jackson came out to speak to the media and release to the public personnel information about Hickman.
In the council's Wednesday statement, the elected officials said they acknowledged that "we, as a city, made mistakes."
Council members said they were "angry" that Rush, who is black, was stopped in the first place by officers, who were white.
They also said they were "furious" that city staff did not notify them of the incident, which council members said they first learned about six months later through a Feb. 28 Citizen Times story that included body camera footage of Hickman beating Rush.
It is important to note that Police Chief Tammy Hooper immediately took "Hickman off the streets," the statement said.
The audits would look for the degree to which "structural racism" was affecting the APD — and if the decision not to notify them came from a "cascade of poor decisions by multiple individuals" or was the result of some other problem, they said.
They promised policy changes that would take into account public input.
In the last part of the statement, council members directly addressed police officers. They thanked those who were shocked by the video and rejected what they saw, while warning those who were not, saying "Asheville has zero tolerance for racism or excessive use of force by our officers."
Here is the statement:
"Like you, we are angry. We are angry that a black man walking home from a long day at work was stopped for jaywalking — something most of us do regularly without consequence. We are angry that Johnnie Rush was attacked, beaten, choked and TASED by a white police officer in violation of city policy and common decency. We are angry that, even with all the efforts to improve relationships between the police and the community, even with an improved use of force policy, this could still happen here. And we are furious that no one thought that we — Asheville’s elected leaders — needed to know about this incident.
"We again extend our deepest apologies to Mr. Rush for his treatment at the hands of members of the Asheville Police Department. It’s important to note that Chief Hooper, after viewing the video footage of the incident, immediately took Officer Hickman off the streets. And she took necessary steps to ensure that he’s no longer employed by the Asheville Police Department. The chief recognizes that the officer’s behavior does not represent the standards to which we hold ourselves and all city employees.
"Asheville City Council is committed to making deep, structural changes needed to help prevent this from happening again.
"City Council will call for an audit of the Asheville Police Department by a third party, such as the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), to determine the degree to which structural racism and implicit and explicit bias continue to contribute to the operations and actions of the department and its officers.
"City Council will also commission an external audit of the staff’s decision-making process related to failure to notify council. While we don’t yet know if it was a failure of culture, process or just a cascade of poor decisions by multiple individuals, we need answers and a plan to promote swift action and accountability.
"In the coming days and weeks, council will also work to develop a set of policy and practice changes for both the police and the city designed to help us make meaningful change. We welcome suggestions from the public and we plan to discuss these steps in a future public work session.
"Finally, a word to our police officers who viewed this video and were angry or ashamed, or otherwise rejected what you saw. We say thank you. We welcome you to stay and continue the transformation of our police department into one that reflects the best policies and practices available. Likewise, to any officers who may not have been disturbed by this, we want to make it clear that Asheville has zero tolerance for racism or excessive use of force by our officers.
"It is clear that, we, as a city, made mistakes. We acknowledge this, apologize and ask for the public’s support as we identify and implement the changes required to help us put better practices in place and move forward. We can be better. Indeed, we must be better. And we will — with your help, input and support.