On March 2, Buncombe County District Attorney Todd Williams wrote to the director of the N.C. State Bureau of Investigation to request that the SBI reconsider its previous decision not to investigate the Asheville Police Department’s use of force against resident Johnnie Jermaine Rush on Aug. 24. The incident came to the public’s attention when the Asheville Citizen Times published leaked police body camera footage of the APD’s interaction with Rush on March 1.
In the letter, Williams explains that he twice had asked Agent Jim Schandevel of the SBI’s Western Office to take on the investigation, but Schandevel had declined the request on both occasions.
Williams also requested that the SBI consider conducting “a criminal investigation of the release of the leaked body-cam footage.”
Below is the text of Williams’ letter:
Director Bob Schurmeier, Director
North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation
3320 Garner Road
Raleigh, North Carolina 27610
Re: Investigation of August 24, 2017 incident involving Johnnie Jermaine Rush in Asheville, NC
Dear Director Schurmeier:
I am writing to request the assistance of the State Bureau of Investigation in an excessive use of force case. We are unable to act without an investigation and without being provided the supporting documentation. A neutral agency should conduct this investigation as the case now involves the unauthorized release of a body-cam video and that raises issues that may compromise a future prosecution.
On August 24, 2017, Asheville Police officers stopped pedestrian Johnnie Jermaine Rush on suspicion of “jay-walking”. The incident escalated to an arrest with charges of Assault on a Law Enforcement Officer, Trespassing, Resist Delay & Obstruct, and Impeding Traffic. The video shows the victim, Mr. Rush, being tased and beaten about the head. He also appears to be choked.
Some three weeks later, on or about September 15, 2017 officers with APD Internal Affairs came to me to request dismissal of Rush’s charges. After reviewing the body-cam video I directed that Rush’s charges be dismissed. Officers represented to us that the Internal Affairs investigation was ongoing. The Internal Affairs Officers took the body-cam video with them and left us with no reports, interviews, or documentation of this event. On December 19th, APD requested an opinion as to the appropriateness of a criminal investigation of Officer Hickman and pursuant to that request, provided to us the August 25, 2017 body-cam footage along with three other videos concerning separate instances relevant to this officer’s compliance with APD use of force policy. In response to the request, I reviewed the videos with senior staff in January and contacted Chief Hooper to express my legal opinion that a criminal investigation of Officer Hickman was indeed necessary and is essential prior to making a charging decision. APD joined with us in making a request to ASAC Jim Schandevel of the Western Office for said investigation. That joint request was turned down.
This week, an unauthorized leak of a copy of the body-cam video recording from August 24, 2017 was published on the Asheville Citizen-Times website, where it bears the headline “Asheville police beating of jaywalking suspect ignites furor” (hyperlink below). We don’t know the motives underlying the release of this video but the release raises serious concerns and may require its own criminal investigation.
Today, I renewed my request to ASAC Schandevel for an investigation of the August 24, 2017 event and also requested a criminal investigation of the release of the leaked body-cam footage. My requests were again turned down by ASAC Schandevel. I advised ASAC Schandevel that I would contact you for assistance in this matter.
As prosecutors we remain unable to act without receipt of an investigation and supporting documentation. As I have now twice requested the SBI to open an investigation into these matters, both of which requests were denied at the field office level, I am formally asking you to direct the SBI to initiate an investigation into these matters. Now that investigatory materials have leaked it is ever more imperative that a neutral agency such as the SBI take over this investigation immediately. It is in the public interest to act expeditiously.
Very truly yours,