The City of Asheville, North Carolina has released body camera footage of a police officer choking a black man for jaywalking and punching him in the head multiple times. The footage was released on Tuesday, and almost immediately drew widespread shock and condemnation when the city posted it on its website.
Johnnie Rush, the man who was choked and beaten, survived the incident. The police officer, Christopher Hickman, subsequently resigned from the Asheville Police Department and is now facing felony assault charges and a civil rights investigation by the FBI, NPR reports.
"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," the city said in a press release.
The video depicts Hickman and a trainee officer, Verino Ruggerio, approaching Rush after allegedly seeing him jaywalking. After a brief conversation, the officers order Rush to put his hands behind his back and grab him. Rush flees, Hickman chases him and shouts that he's "gonna get f*cked up hardcore," then pins him to the ground and places him in a chokehold. He then punches Rush several times in the head as he's on the ground, then shocks him with a taser.
The city said that a supervising officer who was also present, Lisa Taube, faces "disciplinary action and mandatory retraining" after police determined that her "conduct in this matter constituted unsatisfactory performance."
At several points in the video, Rush can be heard gasping "I can't breath," the same phrase that Eric Garner uttered as Staten Island police officer Daniel Pantaleo fatally choked him on a city street after he was discovered selling bootleg cigarettes in 2014. Pantaleo was not charged or indicted for Garner's death. As with the Garner footage and other videos of police violence against unarmed black people, the video of Hickman and Rush elicited anger, frustration and outrage.
"Asheville officer Christopher Hickman beats Johnnie Jermaine Rush for jaywalking?" one Twitter user wrote. "This is why the black community does not trust police in this country. F*CKING PATHETIC. Protect and serve? Complete joke."
"I am consistently amazed at the lack of self control and deescalation that some officers exhibit with body cameras on," another user said. "And it frightens me to consider how it was before they existed."
"I want to throw up," one user wrote in response to an article about the video.
North Carolina law forbids the release of police officers' body camera footage without a court order. The city requested a court order to release the footage, arguing that doing so was "in the interest of public accountability and transparency," and the Buncombe County Superior Court granted that request on March 26.
Hickman appeared in court on Monday, NPR reports. He faces charges of felony assault by strangulation and misdemeanor assault inflicting serious injury and communicating threats. In a statement Tuesday, Hickman's lawyer predicted that his client will be acquitted.
"It's unfortunate that so many individuals have rushed to judge my client," Thomas Amburgey said. "I am confident that when a fair and impartial jury hears the whole story that Mr. Hickman will be acquitted. Any notion that my client had any criminal intent to harm Mr. Rush is without basis."
Rush was initially charged with impeding traffic, trespassing, assault on a government official, and resisting a public officer, but those charges were all dropped, according to the Washington Post.
The footage of Hickman beating Rush comes weeks after Sacramento police officers shot and killed Stephon Clark, an unarmed black man standing in his backyard, on suspicion that he had vandalized vehicles in the area. Sacramento police initially claimed that the officers "believed the [Clark] was pointing a firearm at them," then released an updated statement clarifying that "the only item found near the suspect was a cell phone."