After a closed session of Asheville City Council on March 5, the city released more information on the timeline and investigation into the Asheville Police Department’s use of force against resident Johnnie Jermaine Rush shortly after midnight on Aug. 25.
The incident came to the public’s attention on Feb. 28 when the Asheville Citizen Times published leaked police body camera footage of the APD’s interaction with Rush.
On March 5, Council went into closed session to consult with the city attorney about the use of force incident involving former Asheville Police Senior Officer Chris Hickman. In the closed session, City Council approved a resolution “concurring with the city manager’s release of personnel information,” which can be viewed in full below. It states that the APD’s response to Hickman’s actions can be considered confidential personnel information, but that N.C. General Statutes allow release of such information if the city manager and Council concur that it “is essential to maintaining public confidence in the administration of city services [and] to maintaining the level and quality of city services.”
In a letter from City Manager Gary Jackson to Council on March 5, he details a timeline of events stemming from the initial arrest and states that the community deserves to know that the city takes police misconduct seriously. “The use of force shown in the recordings is, understandably, a source of great anger and concern within the community,” Jackson states. The memo and personnel material released by the city can be seen in their entirety below.
The letter states that Rush made a complaint to the APD on Aug. 25, alleging that a police officer had used excessive force during his arrest the previous evening. According to the letter, that same day, APD Chief Tammy Hooper ordered that Hickman’s law enforcement authority be suspended and that he be taken off the street, turn in his badge and gun, and be placed on administrative duty.
The letter states that Verino Ruggiero, the officer in training with Hickman on Aug. 25, was reassigned to a different training officer. On Aug. 25, Hooper informed Assistant City Attorney John Maddux about the incident and “within days” told interim Assistant City Manager Jade Dundas about the event as well, according to Jackson’s memo.
Rush was originally charged with second-degree trespass, impeding traffic, resisting a public officer and assault on a government official. Those charges were voluntarily dismissed by District Attorney Todd Williams on Sept. 15 after the APD brought him a copy of the recording, the memo states.
Williams was informed on Sept. 15 that the APD’s Professional Standards Unit was conducting an administrative investigation into the matter. According to the letter, Hooper also ordered a “review of all available footage captured by Hickman’s camera during all other encounters with the public. This was a substantially more comprehensive review than is typically required by the APD’s auditing process,” Jackson states in the memo to Council.
This review of 58 hours of footage yielded four other encounters “where Hickman displayed discourteous and rude conduct to members of the public,” but no complaints were filed on those instances, the letter states. The Professional Standards unit initiated an administrative case focused on those instances.
In compliance with the APD’s use of force policy, a supervisor responded to the scene of the arrest on Aug. 25, but the Professional Standards unit found that the supervisor, “despite being told by Hickman that he struck Mr. Rush in the head with his Taser, and despite Mr. Rush saying that he was choked,” did not immediately forward information or complete notes from those interviews or view the body cam footage that night, according to the memo. That supervisor, who is not named in Jackson’s letter, “received discipline for unsatisfactory performance and was ordered to undergo additional training.”
Hickman resigned on Dec. 19, and the letter states that prior to that time, Hooper asked Williams to review the body cam footage again along with footage from another officer’s cam to see if the conduct “rose to the level of a criminal offense.” On Jan. 10, Williams requested that the APD ask the State Bureau of Investigation to “initiate a criminal investigation into whether Hickman had committed assault.” That request can be viewed below, along with Hooper’s request to the SBI and its response, declining the request.
Hooper then assigned a detective in the APD’s criminal investigations unit to conduct an inquiry into Hickman’s behavior. Jackson’s letter states that that investigation is nearly complete and the APD expects to submit a case to the district attorney within the next week.
Community reaction has been swift and strong in the days since the release of the body cam video of the incident involving Rush, who is African-American, and Hickman, who is white. In the video of the August incident near the corner of Biltmore and Short Coxe avenues, the officers can be heard saying they are stopping Rush for jaywalking.
The city’s Citizens Police Advisory Committee will hold a community meeting, at which Hooper will speak and the public is invited to comment, on Wednesday, March 7 at 6:30 p.m. in the Dr. Wesley Grant Sr. Southside Center Auditorium. For more information, see this post.
On March 6, the city of Asheville announced it has launched a one-stop portal for documents related to APD excessive use of force investigation. It has gathered all press releases, graphics and documents related to the investigation into a one-stop portal here.
The city also said a hotline established for community members who want to share comments, thoughts or feelings about the incident will remain open through noon on March 7. All recorded comments will be emailed to the Citizens Police Advisory Committee before its community meeting.