ASHEVILLE, N.C. — A former North Carolina police officer facing criminal charges after body camera footage appears to show him beating a man suspected of jaywalking was arraigned in Buncombe County court Friday, reports CBS affiliate WSPA.
Ex-Asheville Police Department officer Christopher William Hickman was charged late Thursday with assault by strangulation, assault inflicting serious injury, and communication threats following controversy in the wake of the August video leak to the Asheville Citizen Times. In the body camera footage, Hickman can be seen beating and tasing 33-year-old Johnnie Rush after he was stopped for jaywalking on August 24, 2017.
The Asheville Police chief put Hickman on desk duty immediately following the beating last August, and he resigned from the force in January after an internal investigation determined he should be fired. Still, the case remained a secret until the recording was leaked to the local newspaper and published last week, sparking community outrage. People there want to know why his arrest took so long when the incident is on tape, reports CBS News’ Mark Strassmann. The FBI is now investigating.
Christopher William Hickman WNCN
Hickman appeared in court Friday and said he would be retaining a private lawyer, the station reports. His next court date was set for April 2.
The camera recorded Hickman saying “he’s not learning!” before a trainee confronts Johnnie Jermaine Rush for jaywalking. Hickman first told the trainee to write him a ticket, but then told Rush to put his hands behind his back after Rush complained that officers didn’t have anything better to do than “harass somebody” for walking.
Rush then tried to run and Hickman brought him down, repeatedly punching him in the head, the video shows. Hickman also struck him and shocked him with a stun gun and put him in a chokehold, according to city documents.
An arrest warrant for Hickman notes that he struck Rush multiple times, causing abrasions and swelling to his head. The warrant said Rush lost consciousness when Hickman placed his arm on his throat and applied pressure.
Describing the threat charge, it also notes that Hickman can be heard saying to Rush: “You’re going to get f—-d up hardcore.”
Officers charged Rush with impeding traffic and resisting arrest, but the charges were dropped. In the recording, made as the streets were deserted, Rush said he was just walking home from his restaurant job when he was stopped near a minor league ballpark and breweries that fuel the city’s booming tourism industry.
Asheville police say they received a use of force complaint and removed Hickman from patrol the day after the incident then launched an internal affairs investigation and informed the district attorney.
The DA’s office says it chose not to file charges in September so the investigation could continue. In December, police returned with three new videos related to officer Hickman’s use of force. Hickman resigned in January.
Community members this week grilled Asheville officials at a packed town hall meeting.
“I don’t understand why the DA didn’t bring charges,” said resident Al Whiteside. “We’re no longer in the 60s, were in the 2000s, 2018.”
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