Asheville pastors concerned officer's video-taped beating could impact community relations

A man seen being beaten by Asheville police officers still gets emotional talking about the incident, months after it happened. Johnnie Rush said he just wants to know why the officer did what he did. (Photo credit: Johnnie Rush)

Police body camera video, that first obtained and reported by the Asheville Citizen-Times, shows an Asheville police officer on tackling a man to the ground, then punching him in the head and tasing him.

It all happened after the officers stopped Johnnie Rush near the corner of Biltmore and Short Coxe avenues after warning him about jaywalking.

Officer Chris Hickman is no longer with the force, and there is a criminal investigation into the incident.

Thursday afternoon Asheville city leaders met to discuss what happened and what kind of effect it might have on the community.

The meeting was behind closed doors and included Mayor Esther Manheimer, Vice Mayor Gwen Wisler and Police Chief Tammy Hooper, the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance and the Baptist Ministers Union.

The pastors expressed their concern about the impact this incident will have on the relationship between police officers and the African-American community.

The Asheville Police Department also put out a timeline of events regarding the incident, which happened in August.

Buncombe County District Attorney Todd Williams said in August, when APD first showed him the video, they were looking to see if Rush assaulted law enforcement officers, if he was suspected of damaging property or resisted officers. All charges against Rush were dropped.

Williams said APD did not ask his office whether an investigation of Hickman was warranted, which is why Williams said there is a gap from when he first saw the video in August to January, when he recommended a criminal investigation.

“A law enforcement agency is authorized by law to request independent involvement of the SBI to review and investigate criminally that use of force issue independent of a review by the district attorney," Williams said.

According to the APD timeline, the APD requested advice in December on whether or not to start the criminal investigation against Hickman.

"After review of the video, seeing the victim and after hearing the statements, we decided a criminal investigation was recommended," Williams said.

City leaders plan to meet with area pastors again March 22.

The city has also set up a hotline (828-259-5900) for the public to leave comments.

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