Johnnie Rush was walking home from a long work shift in Asheville, North Carolina, last summer when he was put in a chokehold by police and arrested for jaywalking.
“I can’t breathe!” Rush said as he was strangled by Officer Christopher Hickman, according to new footage of the arrest. The City of Asheville released nine bodycam videos of Rush being choked, beaten, and arrested by police on Monday. Hickman was charged with assault last month following his January resignation from the police force.
The videos showed Hickman and Officer Veniro Ruggerio, who was in training during last summer’s incident, approaching Rush about repeatedly jaywalking. Ruggerio told Rush he “didn’t use a crosswalk four times in a row.”
“All I’m trying to do is go home,” Rush said, who had just finished a 13-hour shift at a Cracker Barrel. The officers told Rush they were going to arrest him or write him a ticket, but then they move to arrest him. Rush started to run.
“You’re going to get f----d up hardcore,” Hickman said before tackling Rush, who eventually stopped running. Hickman told Rush to put his hands behind his back and punches him on the head.
Rush screamed, “I can’t breathe,” because Hickman put him in a chokehold, which the new footage shows. Despite Rush’s cries, Hickman then struck him in the head with side of a taser.
In another video, Hickman admitted to punching Rush in the face, using the taser “as if it was a club.” He claimed Rush was trying to take the device out of his hand, but the allegation cannot be seen in the videos released on Monday.
“I beat the shit out of his head, I’m not going to lie about that,” Hickman said to a fellow officer at the scene.
“Don’t look at me with your spitty bloodly face,” Hickman said when Rush is being placed in a police vehicle.
Upon questioning, Rush asked Sergeant Lisa Taube, another officer who came to the scene, “What would have happened if he would’ve killed me, then what?”
Taube told Rush he was wrong for resisting a police officer.
A final clip in the aftermath of the arrest showed Hickman making small talk with Rush about work and home life. Hickman said that he was not aware if Rush had a weapon. “You never would have got punched when I told you to put your hands behind your back.”
“You’re super cool, and I think we’ll probably get through the process real quick,” added Hickman. After the arrest, Rush filed a complaint with Asheville police.
The new bodycam footage released on Monday follows criticism of the Asheville Police Department when Rush’s arrest was leaked to the Asheville Citizen Times in February. The FBI launched a civil rights investigation last month into why Hickman, who is white, beat Rush, an unarmed black man, for a misdemeanor.
City officials also said in a statement that the new videos showed Hickman, who was placed on administrative leave after the incident and resigned in January, using excessive force. Hickman was charged with assault by strangulation on March 9 by the Asheville District Attorney. According to Asheville Police Department guidelines, chokeholds and strikes should be avoided “unless lethal force is reasonably believed to be necessary.”
Hickman’s attorney Thomas Amburgey told the Citizen Times on Monday: “It’s unfortunate that so many individuals have rushed to judge my client,” and added, “Any notion that my client had any criminal intent to harm Mr. Rush is without basis.”
“What happened in these recordings is unacceptable and does not meet the standards of the Asheville Police Department, the values of the City of Asheville, or the expectations of Asheville residents,” city officials said in a statement on Monday accompanying the new videos. The footage became public after the city filed a court order with the Buncombe County Superior Court.
Since the beating footage was leaked, Asheville officials have tried to respond to the community’s concerns: In March, Asheville Police Chief Tammy Hopper said she would resign if that’s what the public wanted, the Citizen Times reported. Later that month, Asheville City Council dismissed City Manager Gary Jackson. Neither Jackson, who was set to retire this year, nor any other council members were aware of the initial police beating video before its February release, according to the Citizen Times.
“There’s two stories here: one is the more traditional one of excessive force and another is the police reaction,” University of South Carolina criminologist Geoffrey Alpert told The Daily Beast.
While the beating was “clearly excessive,” the admission and “corrective action” by police is unusual in cases of police brutality, Alpert said.