Captured on police body cam video beating an unarmed man for jaywalking, a former North Carolina police office was recently charged with one count each of assault by strangulation, assault inflicting serious injury, and communicating threats. After reviewing the footage of the arrest, the district attorney dismissed all charges against the victim of the brutal police assault.
Shortly after midnight on August 25, Johnnie Jermaine Rush was walking home after the end of his dishwashing shift at a Cracker Barrel restaurant when Asheville Police Officer Christopher Hickman and officer in training, Verino Ruggiero, stopped him for jaywalking. Officer Hickman’s body camera began recording the incident moments before they approached Rush on the sidewalk.
“You didn’t use the crosswalk four times in a row,” Officer Ruggiero told Rush.
“All I’m trying to do is go home, man. I’m tired!” Mr. Rush replied. “I just got off of work.”
“I’ve got two options, I can either arrest you or write you a ticket,” Ruggiero stated.
“It doesn’t matter, man. Do what you got to do besides keep harassing me, man,” Rush responded.
As Hickman ordered Rush to put his hands behind his back, Rush took a few steps backward when the officers grabbed his arms. Realizing that he was being arrested for jaywalking, Rush panicked and began to run away but the officers quickly caught up to him.
“(He) thinks it’s funny,” Hickman said while pursuing Rush. “You know what’s funny is you’re gonna get fucked up hardcore.”
Although Rush dropped to the ground, Hickman fired his Taser at him multiple times while repeatedly punching him in the head. While Rush screamed in pain, Hickman placed his left hand around Rush’s throat and started to choke him.
“All this over you getting a ticket?” Hickman asked Rush. “Now it’s serious, bro.”
Hickman then began yelling at Rush and asked him, “What’s wrong with you?”
“Stop yelling at me,” Rush said.
“Well, then get up and we’ll put you in a car, tough boy,” Hickman replied.
While moving Rush to his patrol car, Hickman held Rush’s head down.
“Stop, man, you ain’t got to do all of that,” Rush told him.
“Don’t look at me with your spitty, blood face,” Hickman responded.
“Yeah, because you’ve been hitting me in my face,” Rush retorted.
“Yeah, you’re right,” Hickman said.
“So, that give you the right to punch me in my face?” Rush asked.
“Unfortunately, it is,” Hickman stated.
After a police supervisor appeared on the scene, Hickman told him, “He started throwing a fit on the sidewalk. I told him to get his hands behind his back, and it was on from there. (He) ran, laughing, saying ‘fuck you,’ ‘can’t wait til you catch me.’ So we caught him.
“Then he wanted to fight. Tried to drag the Taser out of my hand, and then I just went on his fucking head. I beat the shit out of his head. Not gonna lie about that.”
Rush was charged with second-degree trespass, impeding traffic, assault on a government official, and resisting a public officer. After reviewing Hickman’s body cam footage, Buncombe County District Attorney Todd Williams dismissed all of the charges against Rush in September.
“There is no excuse for what happened to Johnnie Rush,” the ACLU of North Carolina said in a tweet. “Police must protect and serve everyone, regardless of race. Instead, a Black man gets beaten, tased, and choked over jaywalking. That’s right, jaywalking.”
“The acts demonstrated in this video are unacceptable and contrary to the department’s vision and the progress we have made in the last several years in improving community trust,” Police Chief Tammy Hooper said in a statement. “Officers know that they must earn the trust of our community by providing fair and respectful service. That very clearly did not happen during the incident depicted and for that I apologize to Mr. Rush, as well as the community.”
Hickman was removed from patrol duty a day after the incident last August and resigned from the Asheville Police Department in January. He resigned on the same day that Chief Hooper was going to fire him.
On Thursday, Hickman was taken into custody and charged with assault by strangulation, assault inflicting serious injury, and communicating threats. Ruggiero does not face any criminal charges.